A Christmas Miracle


Kami Huff, Staff Writer

“One hot chocolate to go, miss?” The barista asked, looking at me. I nodded and picked up my drink from the counter, shaking my head at my name being horribly misspelled. I waved goodbye to the woman I had been conversing with in line and stepped outside, the Starbucks bell chiming as I walked out the door. I breathed in the smell of sweet chocolate from my piping hot drink as I quickly hustled down the streets of Manhattan. My Starbucks run had pushed me a couple minutes too far to the edge. If I didn’t get on the subway then, I would’ve been late.

I quickly pushed my ticket into the slot and waited with the others for the next train. As I frantically awaited the panicked text from my coworker, I sneered at the woman decked out in red and green and voluntarily decorating the subway station with shiny twinkling lights and miniature Christmas trees. I sighed. What a waste of time, I thought. There’s so many more important things that this city needs. The train arrived, and I waited no time to squeeze past the crowd and onto the train car, accidentally splashing the hot liquid in my Starbucks cup on a stranger. “I’m sorry!” I shouted as the doors closed.

When I finally arrived at the hospital, I was six minutes behind for my shift and already had a missed call from my best friend and fellow nurse, Kat. She must’ve called me on the subway when she realized I was running behind. I donned my white coat, never forgetting to feel proud of myself for the title “Sophia Varns, RN, NNP.” At twenty six, I had been a nurse for almost four years at that point and worked on the New York General pediatric floor for just as long, but I had recently graduated from neonatal nurse practitioner school and obtained my board certification. Therefore, the past six months I have been in total stress mode from the transition to total NICU mode. Despite my oftentimes monotone personality, I have always had a love and passion for children, babies to be specific. That’s why I chose to dedicate my life to helping all babies go home to their families.

“Soph, c’mon! Put the coffee down. Dr. Kennings was already asking where the nurse practitioner was.” Kat called out. I shook my head at her and hurried down the hall. Dr. Kennings, the neonatologist I work with, would be mad at me no matter what I did. I suppose that’s what happens when there’s a newly licensed nurse practitioner on your turf.

As I passed through the hallway, the putrefying red and green garland and the decorated Christmas tree in the nurse’s station unfortunately caught my eyes as I hurried to the NICU. I couldn’t help but think to myself, Why does this have to happen to me at the start of every single November? The supposedly cheerful decor surrounding the hospital reminds me every year why I hate Christmas so much in the first place. You see, I didn’t always hate Christmas. In fact, I used to love it.

It all started with the boy next door, Ryan. He was my childhood best friend and my soulmate. He was one of the few people on this planet that actually understood every single aspect of me, aside from my family and Kat of course. This is the exact reason that I fell in love with him and the reason why I would have married him. Christmas had been our favorite season and holiday since we were young, so it made perfect sense when he got down on one next three years ago to ask me to be his bride on Christmas Eve. What didn’t make sense was the horrifying car accident we got in while driving back to his apartment to celebrate with champagne.

In the matter of five seconds rushing down the hall to meet Dr. Kennings, my mind raced with the memory of the huge bang of the crash that night, me falling unconscious, and waking up to the EMT shaking me awake to see if I was still alive, unlike Ryan. I remembered the sound of my wailing scream as I realized that within an hour, my future had been taken away from me. I blame the holiday for Ryan’s death. If the windshield of the car that hit us that cold winter night hadn’t been illegally decorated for Christmas preventing visibility, Ryan would still be here. Therefore, I stopped celebrating Christmas, and ever since, I have hated everything about it. The universe gave me a Christmas surprise of an engagement ring just to take my other half away on the same day, and it’s all because of a stupid fat man in a red suit.

“Sophia, are you alright? You’ve gotta snap out of it because there’s been a new baby born at twenty-five weeks, and we don’t know if she is going to make it. It’d sure be horrible for her family, what a time to have a sick baby. . .” I came back to reality as Dr. Jennings and I stepped into the NICU. Surrounding me were my patients that I was putting every effort into sending home to their families. The only problem is that we are constantly getting more.

“Yes, I’m good. Just been a hectic morning. Where is she? The infant I mean?” Dr. Jennings led me to the farthest corner of the NICU to the smallest incubator in the room. The sweet baby girl that laid in it was definitely extremely premature and I could tell she needed immediate medical assistance. “She was born early because Mom was suffering from high blood pressure during her pregnancy to the point that it was risking her life. The best option for them both was to deliver at twenty-five weeks, but it’s our job to send her home.” I took my stethoscope off from around my neck, reached inside the incubator and pressed it against the baby’s tiny chest. Her heart rate and vitals were steady, but I knew that she would need to be monitored twenty-four seven.

Dr. Jennings went off to a meeting, but I stayed in the NICU with my patients, checking on each of them, administering care, and comforting parents who came to visit with hopeful looks upon their faces. No matter what I did though during my shift, I kept returning to Ellia. That was what our new patient’s name was. There was something about that baby that drew me to her. Her case was not uncommon; we receive many babies prematurely in the NICU due to a mother’s preeclampsia (high blood pressure), but for some reason Ellia just pulled at certain heartstrings for me. I knew then that I was determined to make her healthy.


Many shifts and days passed, and my life remained the same but dulled even more each day as we got closer to Christmas. Everything reminded me of Ryan, but for the first time, I was actually able to slowly let him move on. In my mind, it was because of Ellia. The infant needed a lot of care and constantly needed medicine and monitoring to ensure that she was getting stronger safely. While monitoring her would’ve been a task for a medical assistant or pediatric intern, I had no problem doing it because Ellia was truly a patient that struck out to me. Whenever I could catch a break from other patients and their families, I would go over to her incubator just to watch her tiny body getting stronger by the day.

After Ellia had been in the NICU for about two weeks, I met her family for the first time. I was attending to another newborn patient who had recently had an operation to remove a mass in his stomach when Dr. Jennings brought two men into the NICU whom I had never seen before. They gathered around Ellia’s incubator and I walked over and introduced myself. I discovered that the two men were Ellia’s father, David, and uncle, Luke, who had come home to New York from Texas for Thanksgiving. The father had a saddened look upon his face as he took his baby girl’s tiny hand from inside the incubator. He knelt down on one knee and said, “Fight for me, little Ellia. Mama is resting but she will be here soon to visit.”

I grabbed two chairs from a nearby room for the men to sit and be with Ellia for a little while. While David seemed like any ordinary parent nervous for the outcome of his premature baby, Luke caught my attention. Never before had I been so attracted to a man since Ryan. He looked like the baby’s mother whom I had seen several times in the NICU, so I assumed he was her brother. He had a chiseled jaw with piercing blue eyes that I could see from across the room. His dirty blonde hair was perfectly combed over and the fact that he was there to support his niece attracted me even more. 

When I set up a chair for Luke, I caught my breath in my throat and tried to put all thoughts about him aside, though it was hard with the way that he smiled at me. It made me feel warm inside. I knew that saving Ellia’s life was the only thing that mattered right now, so I reminded myself that Ryan was the love of my life, despite whatever strange attraction I was feeling towards this stranger.

“Thank you very much. I can tell that you’re an excellent nurse practitioner just by your bedside manner and care for your patient’s family. Janie and I’s mom was a nurse for over thirty years, so I can surely recognize an excellent one.” Luke spoke to me kindly. His voice sounded like a warm summer day and the faint Texas accent made him all the more likable. I knew that Ellia’s mother’s name was Jane, so him saying this confirmed my assumption.

I nervously smiled back and said, “Thank you very much. My passion is to make sure every baby gets to go home to their family.” Dr. Jennings told me that he wanted to discuss Ellia’s state with her dad, so he and David left the NICU, leaving me alone with Luke and all the babies. I tried to pretend like nothing was out of the ordinary and I attended to Ellia, administering medicine and checking her vitals. Luke kept looking over at me like a kid in the candy store. I pictured Ryan in my brain and snapped out of the thought.

“Have you seen Rockafeller yet this year? The tree is the most beautiful one I’ve seen yet. And Janie and I have been goin’ to see it since we were little.” I turned to look at him and shook my head. “No. I’m not into the whole Christmas thing anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the baby Jesus but the festivities aren’t for me. I can’t stand it and I can’t stand the way people act during the season.” Luke’s face dropped as he said, “Oh, that’s a shame to hear. The excitement of Christmas is one of the only things that gets me through the years.”

I held back the tears at how much this man’s personality reminded me of Ryan’s. Of course he was all about Christmas, just as Ryan used to be. I finished administering Ellia’s medication and reached in the incubator to grab her tiny wrist. Her heart was certainly pumping away rapidly. I wondered what the odds were of her actually making it through. With little fighters like her, it’s always hard to tell.

“Do you think she’s gonna make it? She already looks just like Janie.” Luke looked down at his niece with a longing face. 

I replied, “All we can do is pray to God and believe in the power of medicine. I’ve worked with several babies like Ellia and sent most home, but I have to say that not all of them are this cute. I think she’s a little fighter.” I chuckled and smiled at Luke, making strong eye contact with him for the first time. 

He smiled back and said, “Perhaps. Or maybe she just loves Christmas like her uncle.” I chuckled and so did he. I brushed my hair out of my eyes and thought about how I was certainly going to look forward to seeing Ellia’s uncle around more frequently.


Two weeks passed, and I’d thankfully moved on from my little lovesick gaze about a patient’s uncle. We were now two weeks into December and the hospital was whizzing with business. I did not have a moment to think about anything, let alone daydream about an attractive male like a high schooler. Despite that, every time Ellia’s parents came in to visit I couldn’t help but to glance to see whether or not Luke came. 

Even though I don’t celebrate Christmas, it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in it, so I still buy my loved ones gifts to respect their celebrations. Ellia was growing weaker and I had thought that she was going to make it. At that point, I’d lost hope, however. Her lungs still weren’t developing properly, and her liver was failing. To put it out of mind, I decided to head to Kohl’s one night after my shift was over to shop for my sister. While at the store, I couldn’t believe who I saw. Luke was huddled around the jewelry section looking at the gorgeous but overpriced necklaces. 

I gulped and tried to be the better person. I wanted to hide, but he saw me, so I had no choice but to say hello. But before I had the chance to, he spoke first, “Hey! It’s nurse Sophia, right? You’re the nurse helping my baby niece.” Wonderful. He had remembered our encounter from two weeks ago just as vividly as I hoped he hadn’t.

 “Yes, yep that’s me. I figured you’d be home by now since you were home for Thanksgiving. I haven’t seen you visiting the NICU lately.” 

He hid whatever he had been shopping for behind his back, which made me suspicious and said, “Ah. No, I’m stayin’ here for the holidays to be with Janie. I certainly couldn’t leave her and Dave alone with a sick baby during the holidays. Besides, it gives me an excuse to spend some more time with my baby sister. However, the whole time I’ve been here she’s been harping on me to go out and ‘meet a nice New York girl,’ as she says. She simply can’t accept the fact that I haven’t found the one. I mean goodness, I’m only twenty-nine. I’m here to support her and my niece, not hear about my failed love life.” I wondered why Luke would be talking to me about this and it seemed slightly unprofessional to be talking to a patient’s family member about this, but nonetheless, my heart took over.

“Well, just tell her that sometimes you can’t force life to happen. I had one and God took him home. That’s why I hate Christmas, you know.” Luke’s head snapped up as he heard me state that, and before I knew it, I was discussing my past and personal failures and dreams with a man I’d met once. I suppose he just kind of felt like home to me and knowing that he would be going home to Texas after Christmas anyway made it easier to vent to him. I told him all about Ryan and our past, his death, and why I now hated Christmas. I told him that I wasn’t sure when I would be able to move on but that for some reason he felt like someone I could trust. I had forgotten why I went to Kohl’s in the first place because Luke had me laughing and smiling more than I had in a while.

We left the store together after he purchased the secret item that he hid behind his back and we decided to walk down the streets of New York City. After a little while, Luke said, “I hear Ellia’s not doing great. We’re all starting to lose hope. But if nothing else, at least I’ve met a certain beautiful nurse practitioner to help me through the tragedy. Ya know, I don’t exactly know why I ever left the city. It’s gorgeous here at Christmas.” The light dusting of snow on the streets made his eyes shimmer as he talked to me. The glow of the Christmas lights around Broadway brightened his face and I remembered how much Ryan loved the lights. I knew that Luke was flirting with me, and I decided to let myself be happy about it. For the first time, something inside me made me feel as though Ryan would be happy for me that I was beginning to fall for someone else. 

I replied to him, “Yeah, but I’m not ready to lose hope just yet. Ryan was never a quitter and neither will I be.” 

Luke smiled at me again and said, “Your fiance would be proud of how far you’ve come.”

We had been walking for so long that I wondered where Luke was taking me. He told me that we were going to the hospital to see the baby since I was not working and could simply just see her with what days she did have left. I realized, however, that the way he was leading me was certainly not to the hospital. When I saw where we were, I chuckled and shook my head, but I knew Luke wouldn’t take no for an answer. He had brought me to Rockefeller center and the lights were so beautiful that just for a moment, I remembered why I used to love Christmas. “I am going to remind you of who you were and who Ryan wants you to still be,” he said. I led me through the gate and bought two tickets for us to ice skate. He took my hand and helped me. I crashed and burned several times, but he just laughed with me about it. He let me feel joy.

After we were exhausted and our feet were sore from the skates, he led me out to the tree. “I know that you don’t truly hate Christmas. I barely know you, but you feel like a breath of fresh air for me. You’re doing everything you can to save my niece and for some odd reason, you trust me even though I’m a stranger. I see your joy you have with the winter activities. It’s okay to let yourself move on, Sophia. You’re so strong and your fiance would be proud of you, your career, and your faithfulness to him.”

I had never heard such sweet words before. What made me have the worst lump in my throat was that I knew he was right. I had been pretending to be someone I wasn’t ever since Ryan’s death, but Luke and Ellia were my signs that it was okay to find myself again. “I barely know you either, but you’re my breath of fresh air too, Luke McDonald.” I let a tear of joy fall down my cheek as Luke smiled at me and pulled me close to kiss me for the first time underneath the Rockefeller center mistletoe decoration. For the first time in years, I felt okay once again.


I tried to hide what had happened between Luke and I from Dr. Jennings and Kat, but it wasn’t long before they realized that I was smitten. Since the day at Rockefeller, Luke came to visit Ellia with Jane and Dave every single day since Christmas was approaching. Kat instantly knew that something was up when she came over one night to have a glass of wine and noticed that I had put a tree up. “Sophia Desiree, is that a Christmas tree I see?” 

I laughed and told her, “Yep. Yeah, it is.” I couldn’t hold anything back anymore so I told my best friend everything that night.

I spent the two weeks leading up to Christmas reinventing myself. I looked at photos of Ryan and I and smiled instead of crying. I talked to Luke frequently and we went on two dates in a week. I felt at peace and slowly let myself welcome the Christmas spirit back into my life. I hung a nativity painting in my living room and thanked God for what he’d given me recently. I also prayed for baby Ellia as I knew her days were coming to an end. 

I was saddened to see that I had to work the Christmas Eve shift. When it was originally scheduled, I saw no problem in taking the holiday shift since there was nowhere else I needed to be anyways. Since meeting Luke, however, now the only place I wanted to be on Christmas Eve was in his arms. We could only hope that Ellia would at least pull through until Christmas Day to at least spend Christmas with those that helped her most. Out of all the babies that I’ve ever worked with, knowing that soon we would have to say goodbye to Ellia was the hardest medical case that I had worked on. I never would have imagined the actual result.

Two days before Christmas, Ellia’s condition reached an all-time low. Her liver failure had a domino effect on the rest of her body, and since I was now her primary caregiver, I had to welcome her family in to say their final goodbyes as there was no telling at that point when she would let go. It broke my heart to watch Luke comforting his teary-eyed sister and when he hugged me in sadness, all I could have was the deepest sympathy.

It took Jane hours to accept the news that Ellia was hours away from meeting her maker. It pained me that this had to happen to one of my favorite patient families, especially at Christmas time, but I knew that God had a reason and unfortunately that’s part of my job. I tried to celebrate the joys of my life that Ellia did reintroduce. If it weren’t for that little baby’s birth, I never would have met Luke.

I stayed by Ellia’s side for the next two days, not even caring if I was on the clock or not. The McDonalds and so many other NICU families had to spend Christmas Eve without their babies, so I promised myself that I’d be with them. Besides, who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas Eve with one hundred little babies? During my Christmas Eve shift, I propped a chair and sat down next to Ellia’s incubator, sighing at her tiny face that was slowly losing life. I felt my tears drop onto my pink scrubs and I felt myself growing tired as it was nearly midnight. I reached in and grabbed Ellia’s hand for what I knew was the last time as I saw her numbers dropping deathly low. The hospital seemed empty and not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. “It’s okay, girl. You can go now.” I whispered, as I turned to look around at all of my baby patients. “Merry Christmas, guys.”

I must have fallen asleep in the NICU that night while holding Ellia’s hand, because the next thing I knew, I heard happy voices and joyful cheering. “What-what’s going on?” I opened my eyes and came to attention to see Dr. Jennings and Ellia’s family huddled together around me, as well as a couple of other parents who came in on the holiday to see their recovering babies. “I knew you were my breath of fresh air. I felt it from the start. It’s you, it’s all you.” Luke said, gazing at me with endearment. I wondered what on Earth they were talking about and why everyone seemed so happy when surely Ellia had passed through the night.

I looked at Dr. Jennings and was confused but then I was startled as I heard a faint infant noise. I looked over, and Ellia was moving and smiling in Jane’s arms, outside of her incubator, alive and happy as could be. I gasped and covered my mouth with my hands and asked Dr. Jennings, “But… but how? I was just here holding her hand, I knew she’d be gone soon…”

He replied, “No one knows, and perhaps we never will. I came in this morning to check on the babies before my children had even woken to find Ellia with vitals and numbers over the moon: the healthiest she has ever been. I saw you were asleep while holding her hand and I chuckled because that’s classic you: the healthcare provider that views her patients as family. I let you stay in that chair and I examined this infant because it seemed like the biggest medical mystery of my career. After looking, she is fully developed as we knew but her liver failure is just. . . gone. I simply saw no reason for her to not exit the incubator, she was doing just fine on her own. I truly don’t understand what happened. It’s like she was kissed by an angel.” 

I looked at Luke and smiled. I said, “Yeah, I guess she was!”

I got out of my chair and went to Luke and wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him in joy, right in front of Dr. Jennings. He simply smiled at how happy I had been and all I could think was, yep, he is my breath of fresh air. I laughed and Janie handed me Ellia. “You deserve to truly meet her now.” She said to me joyfully.

 I looked into her sweet tiny blue eyes and said, “What is going on? This is like a Hallmark story or something.” We all laughed and then I said, “I do believe she was kissed by an angel. It’s Ryan’s message that he’s happy and wants me to move on.” 

Luke nodded and said, “It’s nothing but a Christmas miracle.” Ellia laughed for the first time, causing the whole room to turn in our direction and all the parents to smile with hopefulness.

 Looking back at Luke, I replied, “You’re so right. Nothing but a Christmas miracle and the hand of God. Oh, and a faint smile of my past.” I knew at that moment that I was so wrong to ever lose hope in the Christmas magic. All this time, Ryan was the one waiting for me to be ready.