When the Carnes family puts on their costumes Saturday — mom, dad, Mac and Sam dressing as cartoon characters from their favorite show — and they walk the sidewalks of their Hoschton subdivision, you might notice something about them.
They’re happy. Sure, kids are happy when trick-or-treating, but this is something else. A gladness that goes beyond easy smiles. There’s gratitude, a sure-enough gushing gratitude in the blue eyes of mom and Mac, in the full hearts of dad and Sam.
They’ve got a powerful secret. It’s the kind of secret that makes holidays like this even more special. It’s the kind of hidden knowledge that makes you get down on your knees and — whether you believe in God or not — say thanks to whoever out there is listening, whoever is overseeing all the chaos and dispensing the occasional miracle.
Sam Carnes, 2, is a miracle baby. A whip-smart kid with a quick smile, he’s partial to monster trucks and Thomas the Tank Engine. He’s a typical young boy in some regards — possessing a wild exuberance and an adventurous spirit — with one exception: Sam almost wasn’t born.
In the early morning hours of July Fourth weekend in 2013, Julie, his mother, awoke in a pool of blood. She called her doctor at Emory Johns Creek, where she was supposed to deliver, and the doctor told her to drive to the medical center — about an hour away. The doctor, Julie said, did not understand the situation’s severity. She hung up and called 911. The emergency operator told her to go wait on the front steps of her home. By the time she opened the door, there was a man standing there with a gurney. The man with the gurney, she said, saved their lives.
On Tuesday afternoon, Julie and Sam strolled down to Fire Station 14 — they live literally right next door — and presented the man, Hall County EMT Jonathan Baker, with a framed photo of him and the Carnes family. Etched across the top of the frame: “Our Hero.”
The reunion Tuesday came several weeks after a letter Julie wrote to the fire department, commending Baker for the gift he’d given their family.
“I can’t say enough good things about Jonathan,” Julie said Tuesday morning prior to visiting the fire station. “He was so caring and professional that day … he had a hard job. I really feel like God put him in our lives, so I wanted to write a letter to the fire department, but what do you say that’s good enough for someone that saved you and your son’s lives?”
Baker said that every time he sees Julie and Sam, “it almost doesn’t seem real.”
“It’s overwhelming,” Baker said. “I don’t ever know what to say. I’m just thankful to have a job where I can be a part of something like this. I’m so thankful. There’s no telling how badly this thing could have gone. There could have easily been two lives lost that day.”
The scene was grim, he said.
“When we pulled up, it didn’t take long to realize we needed to get this woman to the hospital, Baker said. “We needed to get going. We got her on the gurney and into the truck as fast as we could.”
Upon arriving, Baker spoke on the phone with Julie’s doctor and told her there was no time to take her to Emory Johns Creek; they needed to get to a hospital quicker than that.
The decision Baker made to take her to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Julie said, was “the decision between life and death. I was in really bad shape … but (Baker) got me prepped for surgery, and the paramedics called ahead to the hospital, so that they were ready for me when I arrived.”
Upon arriving, she spent several days in the hospital, during which time she had several blood transfusions and later gave birth to a 3-pound baby boy named Sam, who spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit.
When he thinks about all that transpired that weekend, Baker just shakes his head.
“Now, I look at this gorgeous little kid, and I say, ‘Wow.’ I am filled with gratitude,” he said.
Gratitude is a feeling the Carnes family embodies with every breath.
Their existence in itself, Julie said, is a celebration of the miracles that can happen to anybody at any given moment. And so they live every moment with appreciation.
As they slip into their cartoon costumes this Saturday and walk the streets of their subdivision knocking on neighbors’ doors, they do so with the full knowledge that life is a gift.
In Julie’s words: “We are blessed, and we are so happy. God is good.”