When Nadine Juntunen was 7 years old, she bought a raffle ticket at an Albertsons store in Billings. The prize was a 4-foot-tall teddy bear.
“I told my parents that I was going to spend my own money,” Juntunen said Saturday, holding her 6-month-old daughter, Elysha, on a bed in the Pediatrics Department at St. Vincent Healthcare. “I told God if I won it, I was going to give it away.”
Remarkably, Juntunen won the bear and, true to her word, she and her mom visited the pediatrics floor at St. Vincent.
“I swear it was this room, or it was this end of the hall,” she said.
Juntunen gave the bear to a 2-year-old girl whom she thought had been diagnosed with leukemia, to make things a little better for her.
“Last night I was telling my husband that as we were coming in, that I remembered giving away that teddy bear,” she said.
The couple brought the baby, who was fussy with a temperature, into St. V’s walk-in clinic Friday. She was sent to the emergency department, then admitted to the hospital with possible viral meningitis.
But Elysha’s fever broke on Saturday, and Juntunen thought she’d be able to take the baby home later in the day. She and Elysha were in the patient room with Carolyn Ostlund, Juntunen’s mother.
Early in the afternoon, 10 members of the West High varsity girls basketball team stopped by the room bearing a gift, a fuzzy light-brown teddy bear, for the young patient. The team members visited several rooms to drop off bears to the pediatric patients.
Little Elysha was mesmerized as she stared at the bear’s face. The team members delighted in the baby's smiles, and Juntunen thanked the girls for their thoughtfulness.
After they left, she told the story about how she had given away a bear to another patient.
“It is super sweet that she gets a teddy bear now too,” Juntunen said.
Ambreya Windy Boy, a senior forward and shooting guard on the team, who presented the bear to Elysha, said she was glad to take part in the give-away.
"What better way than to give back to kids who don't really get to have Christmas the way that we do," she said.
Shea Dolan, junior point guard, came up with the idea of giving away the plush bears “since we’re the Golden Bears.”
She wanted to do something to brighten up Christmas for children battling illness in the hospital. Shea choked up a little as she talked about how it felt to visit the children and bring them a little cheer.
“It was hard but nice to see the smiles that they had once we brought them the bears,” she said. “Their eyes lit up and it was really nice. Hopefully it makes it a little bit better for them.”