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From tears to inspiration

Lexington's Breckinridge Elementary School has a brand-new playground, thanks in large part to a baby girl who will never have the chance to play on it.

Students, parents and friends gathered at the school Sunday afternoon to officially dedicate the shiny new Sophie Routt Memorial Playground.

Sophie's big sister, Ella Routt, 4, cut the ribbon to open the playground, while the girls' parents, Chad and Mary Katherine Routt, looked on and remembered the little one who wasn't present.

Sophie Caroline Routt was born on July 28, 2008. She had dark hair, and everybody said she looked just like her father. But at birth, Sophie suffered a severe hypoxic brain injury, a problem caused by a shortage of oxygen reaching the brain.

Sophie barely survived her first night. Eventually she was able to go home, for a while, after spending a month in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Kentucky. She died on Oct. 6.

"It was awful. It was horrible," Mary Katherine Routt said.

Somehow, though, something remarkable came out of Sophie's brief life.

Determined to do something in their daughter's memory, Chad and Mary Katherine Routt set out on a campaign earlier this year to raise enough money for a new playground at Breckinridge School, where Mary Katherine was then a reading intervention teacher. The project became known simply as Sophie's Playground.

In a matter of a few months, more than $35,000 poured in. That, along with about $11,000 that the school had saved over the year, was enough to make the new playground — and Sunday's dedication — possible.

"I knew very soon after Sophie passed that we wanted to do something to honor her and thank all of the people for the respect they showed while she was sick and after she passed," Mary Katherine Routt said. "We thought of a lot of different things, but we kind of settled on this playground project."

She credits her friend, Krista Stockton, with getting the project started. The two discussed the playground idea, but at first, Routt didn't feel ready to take on such a challenge. About a month later, Stockton revealed that she'd already made some phone calls and raised $4,000 on her own.

After that, it was full speed ahead. Routt went on radio to tell about the fund drive. There was a golf scramble. An accounting firm, Dean, Dorton & Ford, stepped in to help, and the Urban County Government provided assistance.

"Honestly, though, most of the money came right from people's wallets, people just opening their checkbooks and their hearts," Routt said. "It's all been pretty amazing."

Breckinridge principal Karen Haskins said the school has needed a new playground for some time. The old play area was so outdated that some of the equipment had been condemned and was to be torn down. It also tended to collect water and turn to mud when rains fell.

The school began saving money for a new playground about eight years ago, but it had been unable to raise enough, Haskins said.

Routt, who now teaches at Squires Elementary, said the new playground has 12 swings, lots of slides and other things to attract kids. There also are accommodations for children with disabilities.

"It's kind of hard looking back on what we went through," she said. "But the timing of the playground is pretty perfect. It was a year ago last Wednesday that we brought Sophie home from the hospital, and we try to remember how happy a day that was."

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