A former respiratory therapist pleaded guilty Tuesday to molesting young, brain-damaged patients at the hospital where he worked for 25 years.

Wayne Albert Bleyle, 55, admitted to eight counts of forcible lewd acts upon a child and four counts of exhibiting a minor in pornography.

Under a plea agreement, Bleyle would serve 45 years and eight months in prison. With credit for good behavior, he would serve at least 85 percent of that sentence.

Bleyle, who worked at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, answered procedural questions in a firm, quiet voice.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth So denied bail and scheduled sentencing for July 25.

Bleyle was arrested in March 2006 after authorities traced child porn Internet traffic to his home computer in suburban Santee. Prosecutor Laura Gunn told a judge then that Bleyle targeted children who were "the most brain-damaged, most comatose, most nonverbal — children who could never say anything about it."

Bleyle confessed to federal agents that he molested "countless" disabled patients, the prosecutor told the court last year.

"One of the agents who interviewed him said, 'How many kids are we talking about?'" Gunn said. "The defendant, who was in New York at the time looking out at the snow, looked out at the snow and said, 'How many snowflakes are there out there?'"

Bleyle worked at the well-regarded hospital for 25 years, including 10 at the convalescent facility. Former colleagues have described him as an engaging, hardworking therapist who volunteered for extra shifts, reassured parents and served as a mentor to new hires.

Affidavits filed in support of search warrants indicate that investigators found images on Bleyle's computer and cell phone that he had created himself using children at the hospital. His arrest prompted the hospital to ban camera phones in the convalescent unit and require that curtains around patients be left open most of the time.

Barely a month after Bleyle's arrest, another hospital employee was charged with molesting a comatose toddler patient. Christopher Alan Irvin, a 32-year-old nurse at the time, pleaded guilty in September and was sentenced to 14 years and eight months in prison.