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Elmo
Jodi Grabarek holds her 13-month-old daughter, Chloe, as Elmo from Sesame Street greets her in the St. Vincent Healthcare pediatrics department Tuesday afternoon. Chloe is a fan of Elmo but can't leave the hospital because of breathing problems, so characters from the Sesame Street Live show performing at MetraPark came to the pediatrics department to greet Chloe and other children.

Elmo didn’t get Chloe Grabarek’s full-dimple smile, but it was close.

The 13-month-old Billings girl met the Sesame Street character Tuesday afternoon at St. Vincent Healthcare, where she has been a patient for more than half of her life.

He had to work for it, but the candy-red Muppet finally got a coy grin out of her.

“Elmo, Chloe likes you!” exclaimed her 5-year-old brother, Nicholas.

Elmo visited Chloe in the hospital because it would have been too dangerous for her to attend his show at MetraPark this week. Elmo is the star of “Sesame Street Live: When Elmo Grows Up.”

Chloe was born with campomelic dysplasia, a very rare form of dwarfism. The condition comes with multiple complications, including soft cartilage.

“The airway is made of cartilage, so it causes it to be floppy,” said her father, Trevor Grabarek.

That means Chloe cannot hold her throat open and must be on a ventilator to breathe. She has been hospitalized at St. Vincent for eight months.

Her family discovered how much she loves Elmo after playing his DVDs for her in her crib.

“She smiles and laughs,” said her mother, Jodi Grabarek. “You can hear her laughing in her tubes, and she kicks.”

Other programs do not elicit the same reaction, Jodi said.

One of the nurses who cares for Chloe got the idea to introduce her to her favorite television character. Kory Funk first tried to arrange for Chloe to attend the Sesame Street show, but it was determined that taking her out of the hospital would be too risky.

So Sister Catrina Bones, the hospital’s vice president of mission, arranged to have Elmo and Cookie Monster visit the pediatrics department.

Chloe eyed Elmo solemnly while her brother and other children hugged and talked to him. After a while, she reached a hand toward him and smiled.

Despite her physical limitations, Chloe is a spunky patient, Funk said. Children with her condition generally do not have developmental delays.

Chloe likes to yank on her oxygen sensor and watch the lines on the monitor jump up and down and nurses come running.

She can’t make any sound, but her parents are teaching her sign language.

The Grabareks are trying to arrange full-time nursing care at home, and they hope that Chloe’s throat will eventually become strong enough for her to breathe on her own.

“She is very special,” Funk said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do when she leaves.”

Contact Diane Cochran at dcochran@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

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