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Kennady Martin (from left) looks on as her mother Kendal reacts as Kennady's sister Kenzley pulls on her pants. The family plays together and laughs together often.

Catching up With Life

story by Taylor Irby

Snack time means a whole lot to little Kenzley Martin. "She went so long without tasting anything," says her mother, Kendal Martin. "Now I think she's making up for lost time."

A small feeding tube leads into Kenzley's stomach, addressing her inability to simultaneously suck, swallow and breathe. She and her older sister, Kennady, were both born prematurely, Kennady at 25 weeks, Kenzley at 24 weeks. "I learned not to take anything for granted," Kendal says.

Kenzley was born at 1 pound, 10 ounces and has come a long way from her days in neonatal intensive care.  Her sister was just 2 when Kenzley was born,  "She knows when to worry," Kendal says, "like she could tell something was wrong with her sister."

Mornings are hectic for the Martins. Two small kids get their hair done, lunch packed, clothes changed and loaded into the family car. They make their way to Easter Seals West Kentucky, where Kennady will need to be walked to her school bus and Kenzley dropped off at the Lily Pad. Kendal immediately heads to her own classroom within the Lily Pad, where she'll make herself breakfast and then care for other children who require special attention and care while their parents are at work.

The Lily Pad is a day care for children with complex medical needs. It operates as part of the Easter Seals Disability Services, a nonprofit that focuses on improving life for those with a variety of disabilities. There, nurses and nursing assistants feed Kenzley through her stomach tube and make sure she doesn't have any other emergencies.

Kenzley will have her stomach tube removed in about year and will be able to snack on solid foods to her heart's content. The fight for survival each child experienced when she was born fostered an intense sense of closeness within the family.

"When we're not together, we don't feel complete," Kendal says.


Kenzley has her teeth brushed by Kendal at their home. According to Kendal, Kenzley is the last one awake most days, so she can't get into much trouble as Kendal prepares everything for tthe day.


Kennady reaches into the refrigerator as she's scolded by Kendal. Mornings are very busy for Kendal, who likes to prepare Kennady's lunches in the morning and let Kennady have a say.


Kennady watches as Kenzley is loaded into the family car by Kendal, who is raising her own two kids while working to care for other children with special medical needs. "I wouldn't know what to do if I wasn't busy," Kendal says.


Day care participant Max, 4, giggles as Kendal plays with him during his snack time at the Lily Pad. Working at the day care facility, Kendal receives special freedom to care for her own children when they're sick.


Kenzley recieves her daily formula via her feeding tube at the Lily Pad. Kenzley can eat solid food, but cannot suck, swallow and breathe at the same time in order to drink formula. She receives formula, as well as solid snacks.


Kendal takes a moment to watch another staff member of the Lily Pad day care. Kendal always has her hands full. She often eats standing up and is constantly moving.


Kenzley is lifted up by Kendal at their home. Kendal is sure to include her kids in everything she does, and makes sure they both receive individual attention every day.


Kennady (from left) sticks out her tongue as Kenzley kisses her mother, Kendall, in their home. Kendal describes the family as very close.

4 of 70 stories