Not so average Jane: A Christmas to celebrate

Two years ago Georgia Baker was unable to walk – now she is skiing

It is often said that the mountains can be healing – and for artist and naturalist Georgia Baker, that could not be closer to the truth. 

On Christmas day, 2017 her body began an epic battle, the offending disease came out of nowhere. Within days, she would be paralyzed and taken by ambulance to Bozeman Deaconess where she would remain for three weeks before she was flown to the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. 

Once a heli skier, she would become quadriplegic – too weak to push the home button on her phone, unable to even lift her fingertips, or to swallow. She could not even blink. Caregivers had to put eye drops in her eyes. Her husband fed and bathed her. 

Guillain-Barré syndrome “is a rare neurological disorder in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks part of its peripheral nervous system— the network of nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 

“I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t blink. I had to learn to swallow, I had to take chewing lessons, because you really do forget,” she said. 

Recovery takes significant effort and determination. 

“It all started on Christmas and now there is a new beginning two Christmases from when I had to be hospitalized. Just keep hope. I am a very hopeful person and so is my husband. Just keep the goals. Don’t give up,” she said. 

Snowshoeing near Beehive Basin helped her learn to walk again in March of 2019. She attempted to go up the trail, but could not make it past the first significant elevation gain. Three weeks later, she conquered it. In the early days of her therapy, standing for two minutes was a major and exhausting accomplishment. 

“I hope to heli ski in March, it’s been my goal the whole time. From the time I was in the hospital I was like, ‘I’m going heli skiing again.’ Just having that goal in mind was part of the reason we came to Big Sky,” she said. 

Having an “amazing partner” and that goal have been major motivators in her healing process. 

Also, she honors those who contributed to her quick diagnosis and recovery. 

“I’ve just been surrounded by angels, absolute angels,” she said. “Then with the [physical therapy] team at Lone Peak Physical Therapy, the angels just keep finding me.” 

A major step toward her goal occurred this week: she went skiing at Big Sky Resort with her physical therapist, Mary Marshall her husband and a good friend. She was scared, but she went anyway. 

Her life path led her from Germany to Vancouver, B.C. to Portland, then Alaska, followed by a long hospital stay and recovery and then Big Sky in April of this year. Her husband bought property here to keep her motivated in her recovery. Baker, an artist, and her husband Brett, a scientist, view Big Sky as a place to make their dreams come true. 

“We both feel that Big Sky is the place that we can really bring all these things that we are passionate about to fruition,” she said. “Everyone is impassioned in this town, it feels like, and we can get excited about each other’s work.” 

Baker surfaced from her ordeal with vigor and the quest to make the world better using her talents. She paints wildland and wildlife paintings and contributes significant portions of her sales to nonprofits dedicated to wildlife and wilderness preservation. 

Nature is her church, she said. Big Sky, Montana, the West are on the front line where the last wild spaces exist. She believes the creatures of the wilderness should be respected and protected. 

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