This time of year many of us look forward to holiday parties, the first snowfall and presents. However, two families hope to bring their children home for Christmas.
Surgeons successfully replaced part of Trooper Andrew Steen's skull and family members say he's recovering nicely. Many people across South Dakota have rallied around Steen and have raised money to help and Steen is paying it forward.
Which brings us to Ryan and Jessica Baker. As their infant daughter Natallie took a nice, long stretch, the couple reminds us that watching the little things can be the best part of being parents.
"They are amazed at what Natallie can still do. A little kid that has had this many seizures usually goes limp," Jessica said while holding Natallie at Avera in Sioux Falls.
Natallie was born in August. Everything seemed fine, until the parents noticed seemingly typical baby movements were actually more serious.
"Natallie had started doing different jerky stuff," Jessica said.
They took their then one-month-old baby to Avera. Natallie had to have a sensor put in to monitor her oxygen levels, as well as a breathing tube.
"Having to watch her get incubated was very hard," Jessica said.
Doctors believe she has Malignant Migrating Partial Seizure Disorder, a condition that causes her seizures to constantly change and move to different parts of her brain. The cause is hard to find and it is hard to treat.
The Bakers said they have no history of seizures in their family. They spent three months at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. This was at about the same time Ryan was hired as a police officer by the Sioux Falls Police Department. As a brand new officer on the force, he tried not to miss a day of work.
"They pulled me in the office and said, we don't know how you're doing it. We don't know why you're doing it. We don't know why you're here. Your work's not struggling. Nothing's struggling. You need to be with your family. Family's first," Ryan said.
That is when the Bakers realized they were part of a bigger family. Ryan's fellow police officers have money deducted from every paycheck to make sure that Ryan doesn't have to work so he can spend time with his wife and daughters, including big sisters four-year-old Mackenzie and two-year-old Brooklynn.
The Avera Foundation has donated money and someone has even set up the Benefit for Natallie fund at MetaBank. If you want to help, you can go to any MetaBank location and tell them you want to donate to the fund.
Someone else came forward, too; Trooper Andrew Steen.
"A week ago, his sergeant called my mom and said, Andrew wants to meet you. Andrew's been bothering his dad and mom to meet you guys," Ryan said.
Ryan and Steen had worked together a little bit, but did not know each other too well. Steen, who is recovering from brain injuries after being hit by a car on the job, met up with the Bakers last week. The man who has had countless fundraisers in his name gave Natallie $5,000 to help with her medical costs.
"He was going through very similar things that we were doing with Natallie. Intubation, G-tubes, blood testing, EEG's for seizure activity. At that point, I just kind of thought, man, Andrew and Natallie are going to both get better and then they are going to be little buddies. I painted that picture in my head," Jessica said.
The families have something else in common. There is a strong chance the Bakers can take Natallie home just in time for Christmas. Natallie will be monitored by home health care. It will be the first time the whole family has been home together in about three months.
"It would be the best Christmas gift ever," Ryan said.
Even if it's just for a little while.
"We don't look at long term with Natallie. We just take every day we got with her," Jessica said.
Doctors have said Natallie might not have much longer, so for these parents it is not about the big milestones. From someone's generosity.
"For him to give us that type of money. I can't express it. Just melts you," Ryan said.
To watching their daughter take a nice long stretch; these are the little things that mean the most to the Bakers this Christmas.