notes

Read about the hospital's daily pollen counts collected during hay fever season or the subsequent bankruptcy proceedings in 1979 in the archives of the New York Times, the newspaper of record.

View what has become of the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital on Google Maps using the street view option.

Learn the differences between the eight types of OI, according to the OI Foundation.

part ii: the diagnosis

On September 12, a few hours after birth, the infant with half moons for eyes was given 72 hours to live.

The year is 1957, and Brooklyn Jewish Hospital has 22 years before it files for bankruptcy. For now, the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn is mostly white with Jews and Irish filling the hospital's 536 beds.

Once one of Brooklyn's most prestigious medical centers - during the 1930s, '40s and '50s, the hospital lined pages of New York newspapers with stories about medical breakthroughs and the hospital's daily pollen count during hay fever season - the decaying structure at 555 Prospect Place will one day be renovated into apartments in a predominately black neighborhood.

It was an old hospital even then; a five-building complex built 10 stories tall from hopelessly drab grey brick in 1901. The nurses in their white caps with those 4-inch brims extending upward sashayed by one another in the narrow, linoleum corridors, which did nothing to cushion the shrieks from the maternity ward.

This one wasn't from physical pain.

It was a fairly easy pregnancy for Maida Sperling, a petite young thing with dark brown hair that curled out before grazing her slender shoulders. Yes, her feet had swollen in the final trimester and the nausea was seemingly unremitting, but neither she nor her doctors speculated anything out of the ordinary.

Besides, that's just the way it was. They were reluctant to utilize an ultrasound-based diagnostic imaging technique in those days. The sex - and everything else - of the baby was learned at birth.

For the first hours of the infant's life, her curly limbs, too small to allow for visible detection of any abnormality, had masked the broken bones. That is, except for her left leg, jutting out at a grotesque right angle from the crumbled ball-and-socket synovial joint, the hip joint.

From the mother's clutch was unceremoniously torn and placed behind glass for observation her newborn daughter.

Doctors now knew something was wrong, though not what. Amy's femur, tibia, and fibula of the legs, her humerus, radius, and ulna of the arms - all the long bones in her 7 pound, 8 ounce body - were crushed, the tumultuous birthing process to blame. So they wrenched her away. Further handling might further complicate things, they justified.

Despair, desolation and despondency numbering three days long passed before an answer was presented.

Osteogenesis imperfecta, congenital.

Silence.

It came like Greek to Maida and Gery, neither having heard the 13-syllable diagnosis before.

Amy, only hours old, the Sperling's were told that day, is one of an estimated 20,000 people in the U.S. with OI, commonly referred to as brittle bone disease. Due to a gene mutation affecting her body's production of collagen, her bones and joints are unprotected, leaving her vulnerable to breaking and bowing.

Like a tortoise without his shell, her defenses are disabled.

There are eight types of OI ranging in severity from a fatal form to a milder form with few visible symptoms and less fracturing. Amy has the severest, marked by muscle deterioration, joint corrosion, warped bones, scoliosis and blue sclera, or an icy blue stain on the white of her eyes. She's feeble, frail and fragile.

No matter for her mother.

"As far as I was concerned, I didn't see there was any difference about her," said Maida. "And I was going to do whatever it took to give her a good life. I had no doubts I could find ways to meet whatever problems came along."

Maida packed her suitcase and left Brooklyn Jewish Hospital after 10 days recuperation. Amy followed...six months later.