Baked with Love: How One Willmar Girl’s Wish Filled the Ambulance Crew’s Hearts (and stomachs)

Published in Ambulance Services, News

"The EMS crew have taken care of Kayleigh with her many seizures throughout the years. They have always been so nice and have cared for her like she was one of their own kids." – Geoff Barber, Kaleigh's Dad

Kayleigh's story

When many children turn seven-years old it is a year of milestones, as motor skills become more precise and they continue to grow into longer, lankier versions of their preschool selves.

In December 2011, Kayleigh Barber was seven-years old and in the first grade when she experienced another milestone - her first seizure.

"Kayleigh experienced her first Generalized Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal) seizure while she was at school," remembers Geoff Barber, Kayleigh's dad. "She was brought by ambulance to Rice Memorial Hospital ER that day, and we started the doctoring process of determining what was going on."

Kayleigh was diagnosed with Epilepsy, a complex brain condition that causes a person to have seizures. Epilepsy affects about 1 percent of children.

"We have been on this journey with her ever since," said Geoff. "She has been such a great kid – always finding the positive in her situation and making every day the best it can be. Through many different medication changes, she has had a lot of ups and downs, but still tries to be a bright and cheerful young lady!"

A Special Connection

Over the past nine years, the ambulance team in Willmar has gotten to know Kayleigh and her family well. Her dad Geoff also works at Rice Hospital in biomedical services.

"Most of the patients that we care for we only see them for a short time before we transfer care to another provider," said John Behl, Ambulance Services Manager. "Kayleigh is different. We've been called many times to assist her at home and at school, and we've really gotten to know her and her family."

John shares that Kayleigh is a fighter. "She is strong through each one of her seizures, and her parents have also been amazing," he continues. "When our ambulance crew arrive on scene, her parents have already completed the initial steps for someone who is having a seizure. From giving initial medications to making sure Kayleigh is in a safe position, her parents are always by her side. It is reassuring for our crews to know she is receiving the care she needs prior to our arrival."

Make-A-Wish

About a year ago, some friends told the Barbers about the Make-A-Wish Foundation and encouraged them to apply for Kayleigh. "We filled out the application and learned quickly that it was approved," said Geoff.

Volunteers from Make-A-Wish met with the family to inquire about what Kayleigh wanted for her wish. At the time, she decided she wanted to go on a trip to see and stay by the ocean. Her goal was to become a vet technician, so a trip to the San Diego Zoo was quickly put together.

Then COVID-19 happened. Because all travel was locked down, the volunteers reached back out to Kayleigh and asked if she would like to change her wish.

By this time, Kayleigh had been having lots of fun with her mom, Anna, in the kitchen baking everything she could. So, she changed her wish to be able to bake for her family and community.

A Wish that Keeps on Giving

"Kayleigh has been baking for her family, the neighbors, and the ambulance crew for quite some time," Geoff explained. "She wanted her own equipment and supplies to do the baking by herself. They asked her to make a list of all the things she would like, for example a mixer, baking station, etc. She even came up with a name for her bakery – Rosie's Bakery! After that, it was all up in the air, and we waited."

In the fall of 2020, the Barbers again heard from the Make-A-Wish Foundation that Kayleigh's wish for baking items was being granted and they were able to help select a date for the big wish reveal.

As the date for the reveal got closer, Geoff reached out to the CentraCare EMS team in Willmar to ask if they would like to be a part of this special day.

"The Willmar EMS crew have taken care of Kayleigh when she needed help with her many seizures throughout the years," said Geoff. "They have always been so nice and have taken care of her like she was one of their own kids. They mean a lot to us."

Tracey Watson, EMT, spoke with Geoff and told him she would reach out to their team and see what she could do to gather individuals to participate. In just a few days, Tracey reached out to the EMS staff, gathered donations, purchased items to donate and made sure everything was ready for the big day.

The Big Reveal

On Sunday, December 20, with lights flashing, five ambulances and a lead vehicle, along with 17 EMS team members, lined the street in front of Kayleigh's house to help make her wish come true.

"I never imagined it would be so successful. Being part of this wish for Kayleigh was amazing," Tracey shared. "Despite all the changes our EMS team has experienced over the last year, this was an excellent reminder of just who we are. We are here to serve this community with love and compassion. We are here to support Kayleigh and her family."

The Make-A-Wish Foundation donated everything on Kayleigh's wish list including a baking counter/rolling cart, stand mixer, utensils, cookie sheets/baking molds, cupcake pans, storage containers, pots and pan set, cake decorating set, frosting bags and many boxes for delivering the baked goodies. She also received pounds of sprinkles, flour, sugar and three varieties of chocolate chips.

The ambulance team members all
signed an apron for Kayleigh.

The EMS team members also contributed on their own to add to the Make-A-Wish items, including gifts of a kitchen towel, pie plate, utensils, cookie decorating kit, mixing bowls, donut pan, cookie cutters, aprons, and all the ingredients to make chocolate chip cookies. They added a gift card to purchase whatever else she might need.

Kayleigh was happily surprised on the day of her big wish reveal. "I was so shocked when I came outside and saw everyone," exclaimed Kayleigh. "And I was overwhelmed by all the great baking stuff!"

Baking with Love

The very first thing Kayleigh baked was a huge batch of cookies to bring to the EMS crew at Carris Health as a thank you for helping to make her day so special.

Following the wish reveal, Kayleigh's brother Jonathan also reached out to the Willmar ambulance staff to share gratitude for their kindness. "This shows what an amazing, caring team we have in our own little piece of Minnesota," said Jonathan. "I want to thank them for being there whenever my sister, and everyone else, needs them most. It means the world to my sister, my parents, and myself. I am very appreciative for all the EMS team does for our community!"

"We are always looking for ways to give back to the community that we serve," said Ambulance Services Manager, John Behl. "The Make-A-Wish Foundation is an amazing organization, and we were proud to be a part of Kayleigh's wish reveal and to give something back to this special young lady."