Kaylie Bremser entered a room decked floor to ceiling in the color pink and filled with loved ones.
The scene overwhelmed the 8-year-old, who midmonth took a Make-A-Wish Foundation and UnitedHealthcare sponsored trip to the Bahamas with her family. Kaylie shifted between tears and an unabashed smile before backing out of the room, flustered with all eyes on her.
Five minutes later, Kaylie reset the situation, entering the room again, this time with a toothy, proud grin.
“We do that when we have a rough day,” Leslie Bremser, Kaylie’s mom, said on Feb. 23. “Start over.”
Such a redo reflects a steadfast resilience carried by Kaylie, who suffers a congenital heart defect that has prompted three open-heart surgeries and hospital stays.
A healed scar on her chest betrays her struggles. But otherwise, Kaylie delights in the same pleasures as any other second-grader — the Powerpuff Girls, drawing, all shades of pink.
“She’s taken it all in stride,” said Robert Bremser, Kaylie’s father. “Most people are just really surprised.”
Kaylie has two heart chambers where most people have four. A pacemaker helps the organ beat at a normal rate. Congenital heart defects affect about 8 out of every 1,000 newborns, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Although physical activity proves difficult for her, Kaylie thoroughly enjoyed five days at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. UnitedHealthcare aligns with the foundation to fund wishes. UnitedHealth Group has funded more than 1,250 wishes, beginning with its initial three-year, $4.5 million alliance in 2007.
Kaylie’s wish was four years in the making, but working through health issues delayed it. She mingled with dolphins and other sea life on her trip. A seal stole a kiss.
“It was fishy and whiskery,” said Kaylie, giggling at the memory. “I had fun with my mom and dad.”
She admitted to feeling a bit scared when she opened the door to her welcome home surprise party — more than 30 people greeted her.
“Then we started over again,” said Kaylie, who eased up and had a caricature artist draw her likeness and a balloon man create a doll for her.
Kaylie’s father and mother watched their daughter bounce around the room with an affinity like no other.
Robert Bremser recalled a heart procedure in 2008, after which Kaylie grew ill and went into cardiac arrest for about 25 minutes. On Father’s Day, she opened her eyes, emitting one word, “Daddy.”
“I always see that as the best Father’s Day a dad could have,” Robert Bremser said.
The family moved to Derwood from North Carolina in June 2010 to relocate near Kaylie’s doctors at The Nation’s Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.
“The first nine months were awful for her,” Leslie Bremser said.
Kaylie left everything she knew — her classmates, her house.
Now attending Mill Creek Towne Elementary School and enrolled in Brownies, Kaylie is beginning to adjust.
“I think I’m gonna go to [the University of North Carolina], though,” Leslie Bremser said her daughter still tells her.
For the family, spending time together in a warm climate proved nothing short of paradise. Kaylie indulged her love of animals (she wants to be a veterinarian) and her parents were finally able to take a moment to relax.
“Once we were there, I could believe it,” Leslie Bremser said. “It was perfect.”