LUBBOCK COUNTY, TX (KCBD) - For nine-year-old Natalie Baker, life is one big adventure.
"She loves Girl Scouts, she loves to dance, she loves to sing. She wants to be a veterinarian/singer/dancer when she grows up," Jennifer Baker, Natalie's mother, said.
For parents Jennifer and Damon, Natalie is their whole world.
"She's it," Damon Baker said.
But one family excursion on June 4, 2017, not far from their El Paso home, nearly took their world away.
"Natalie had a UTV, which is kind of a Side by Side ride-in ATV, and we have four-wheelers," Damon said. "We were going to go out that day and just kind of ride around the desert and do some exploring."
"We had a routine in place. He was supposed to ride up front so he could give her signals and instruct her what to do," Jennifer said.
But that ride was anything but routine.
"There is a road out there that goes across the desert. As we were coming up on the road, we are not sure why, but she either didn't see me tell her to slow down and stop or wasn't paying close enough attention," Damon said.
Natalie did not see the truck.
"Watching her get hit by the pick-up was terrifying, absolutely terrifying," Damon said.
Damon said the truck blocked his view of his daughter, but as he raced toward her, he just hoped her helmet and the roll cage had done their jobs. Damon never considered what he was about to see.
"It was completely on fire," Damon said.
Natalie was unconscious and buckled in to the UTV that was engulfed in flames.
"My gloves melted reaching in. I had to reach back in to the fire to disengage the seat belt," Damon said.
Because of the significant burns, Natalie was flown to UMC, the closest burn unit from Albuquerque to Dallas.
"That type of injury in a child that age, it could take their life. So we were just worried about getting her to survive for the next couple of days. It was very touch-and-go," said Dr. Griswold, the Director of the Burn Unit and a burn surgeon at UMC.
Griswold said his team at UMC was not only treating significant burns but injuries she sustained during the actual crash.
"Almost two-thirds of her body was burned; almost all of it was third-degree. So, you have to remember this was a really bad burn in addition to a bad wreck on the ATV, so she had a very bad pelvis and hip fracture at the same time," Griswold said.
Natalie would spend the next 80 days in ICU.
"A first-degree burn would be like a sunburn. A second-degree burn is a blister what you get from hot tea spilling on you or touching the oven rack. A third -degree burn goes all the way through the layers of skin and cannot heal until we do surgery," Griswold said.
Natalie's burns required 15 surgeries in those first 80 days at UMC.
Her parents credit the child life specialists for keeping their daughter not only calm but smiling through the pain.
"They were there to keep Natalie comfortable and keep her happy, but they also advocated for her care. When things would get to be too grown up for her, she would make everyone take a time out and explain step by step to Natalie what was happening in terms of what she could understand," Jennifer said.
Weeks in ICU were followed by weeks of rehab in Lubbock. After five months, doctors cleared Natalie to return home.
While Natalie is making significant progress, the road to recovery is far from over for this little girl.
She is still required to make several trips back to Lubbock for additional treatments in addition to the rehab she does at home.
"We have a laser program and the laser literally melts the scar away," Griswold said.
Griswold said UMC was the third burn center in the world to receive this type of laser.
"The scars literally become soft and flat just like their normal skin. Natalie had a real tight scar on her left arm and we were able to loosen that up so her arm moves almost normally now. That is another rewarding thing we can add to these miracle gets so we can help them get their lives back," Griswold said.
As for Natalie, the staff at UMC has become part of her life.
"Two weeks ago, she was there for laser therapy," Jennifer said. "They prepared us that most kids would have PTSD not from the accident, but from the hospital stay. And no, she walks up and goes, 'Oh Lubbock, UMC Lubbock, I've missed you,'" Jennifer said.
"That goes to show you what a pleasant experience because she actually looks forward to going back," Jennifer said.