SALT LAKE CITY — Nicole and B.J. Hoaldridge beam as they stand with family members in the University of Utah Burn Unit poised to give back.
For four long months they lived, grieved, ate, did laundry and tried to sleep here as doctors fought to save their beloved 15-year-old daughter Baylee. Thursday they did what they knew Baylee would have wanted them to do: they presented a $20,000 check to assure every child can go to burn camp this summer.
"On behalf of the Be Brave Baylee Foundation, we present this check from our family, to our family, who took care of us in the burn unit," B.J. Hoaldridge said. The bond was plain to see as doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff, one by one, made their way to the couple giving them hugs and pushing back tears.
The teen was badly burned in an ATV accident July Fourth and died four months later. She loved kids. Camp Nah Nah Mah is in Millcreek Canyon is a five-day, four-night camp where survivors talk, play and live with other kids like them. They go canoeing and rock climbing and receive counseling. Supporting the camp is helping the Hoaldridge family heal, B.J. said.
"I'll be honest with you— I'm having a hard time," he said earlier from their new home in Spanish Fork, and speaking out for the first time since her death. "She was such an amazing person and I miss her every day."
Nicole Hoaldridge, at his side, said, "The best way to heal is to serve, and that's kind of our motto. And the other motto is to just take it one day at a time."
The couple still wears their blue "Be Brave Baylee" wristbands. They make 'Baylee Baskets' for burn victims' families, full of laundry supplies, snacks, kids' games, gift cards, cozy blankets and lots of love. With more than 30,000 followers on Facebook, they've taken generous donations and put them to good use.
"And it's across the world that people know about her," she said.
Upstairs in the Hoaldridge home is a beautifully decorated room, donated by Edge Homes, that was meant to be Baylee's. They hoped she'd be coming back here. But now it's a place where they come to feel her spirit, celebrate her life and grieve.
"I'm definitely sad every day. I have my breakdowns. I miss her so much. She was an amazing girl," Nicole Hoaldridge said.
The community is still coming together to support the girl who lit up a room and the family that loves her. Baylee loved to play softball, and her classmates at Timpview High School crowned her homecoming princess while she fought for her life in the hospital. Neighbors and friends routinely drop off donations for the baskets, and Scouts have taken the baskets on as their Eagle projects.
"My every thought is, 'I want to make her proud,'" her mother said.
The Be Brave Baylee Foundation is going strong and the family plans to make baskets and give large donations to the burn unit for many years to come.
Heather Simonsen is an Emmy-winning health reporter for KSL 5 TV. She's been featured in O Magazine, the New York Times, Salt Lake Magazine, Utah Style & Design and local newspapers. She was a spokesperson for the Olympics and is the mother of three.