Ever since Holly Martin had Caroline Wells, 9, in her first grade class at Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary School, she couldn't wait for the opportunity to teach her younger brother, Connor. "He is such a special kid," Martin said of Connor, who is in her first-grade class this year. "It's like I've almost become part of the family now." On Friday Martin's class celebrated the holidays and Connor's life by decorating beanie babies for the neonatal intensive care unit at Phoenix Children's Hospital. Born three months premature and weighing just one pound, Connor spent the early weeks of his life in the NICU. Because it is so difficult for parents to hold newborns born prematurely, the hospital used beanie babies to comfort him instead. Using beanie babies enabled Connor to utilize all of his energy for proper respiration. "Sometimes it took 30 minutes to get him to us to hold because of all the wires," said Jill Wells, Connor's mother. "As trivial as they are, those beanie babies help so much. Connor couldn't be held much because he would use too much energy instead of breathing." Wells visited the first grade class to lead the project Friday. She told students the story of her son's premature birth as they gathered closely around her chair. A few tears flowed as she showed them the first outfit he ever wore and read them a book about Ruby Duck, a duck born smaller than its siblings and learned to do things at her own speed. "The little things that people did for Connor in the hospital are what made it so much easier for us," Wells said as she showed the class a tiny shirt a third grade class made for Connor's first Christmas. After listening to Wells, each student took one beanie baby and wrote a holiday note to its newborn recipient. Former Sierra teacher Maureen Goldhair also knitted hats for the students to put the beanie babies in. "It's important that they learn these things at an early age," Martin said. "That they understand and realize that there is so much out there to do for others." Corinne Frayer can be reached at (480) 898-7917 or cfrayer@aztrib.com.

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