After spending the last six years traveling nearly 500 miles round trip each month from Baker to Billings and back for infusions to treat their sons' rare autoimmune disorder, the Bruski family would like to help the families of other sick kids.
"We raised $1,000 in a week and a half from Baker already," said Kelly Bruski. "We just ask people if they would be willing to help."
Once a month, Kelly and Kyle Bruski must bring their sons, 7-year-old Taylor and 3-year-old Colton, to Billings Clinic to receive infusions to help treat a rare genetic condition called Bruton's agammaglobulinemia.
About one child in every 200,000 live births is born with the inherited condition, in which a gene mutation results in reduced immunoglobulin production.
"They lack B-cells that help fight infection," Kelly Bruski said.
To combat those issues, the Bruskis travel to Billings each month to Billings Clinic's Pediatric Center, where Taylor and Colton each undergo a three-hour intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) transfusion that helps them fight infections.
With the infusions, the boys are generally as healthy as any other kids their age and actually tend to get over illnesses faster because of the immunoglobulin boost they provide.
"This is the best they've ever been," said Kyle Bruski during a mid-December visit to the hospital's pediatric infusion room. "They're doing great."
However, unless a cure is found, they'll need the monthly infusions — which are made with serum from donors — for the rest of their lives.
Dr. Paul Kelker, a pediatrician at the hospital, said that Billings Clinic treats just one other family with Bruton's and that there are likely less than half a dozen cases in the entire state.
If left untreated, it can lead to chronic lung infections and overwhelming blood stream infections, among other issues, he said.
"They have this genetic mutation where they can't make any of the protein that makes antibodies," Kelker said.
While the Bruskis have been traveling to Billings since Taylor was an infant they've received help from Kelker's Kids, a program through the Billings Clinic Foundation that provides financial assistance to families of children with cancer or other serious blood disorders.
It's come in forms such as help with lodging or food and, combined with a close relationship with the staff and a good overall experience even though the boys get a little scared for each trip when they realize they're going in for infusions, has inspired the family to give back.
"They treat us like we're family," Kyle Bruski said. "We've been coming here for six years and even though we could look for someplace closer, we can't seem to leave here. It's where we want to bring them."
At the beginning of December, Kelly Bruski began raising money for Kelker's Kids through a book drive-type fundraiser in Baker.
To do so, she and her sons have been collecting donations to purchase copies of Claire Freedman and Gavin Scott's "Cuddle Bear" book and related soft, plush teddy bears of the book's main character for children in Kelker's Kids.
"These books will help comfort the kids with childhood cancer and life-threatening diseases in their darkest times," the family wrote in a flier promoting their efforts. "So help us brighten up their days."
In less than two weeks, they raised more than $1,000, Kelly Bruski said, noting that the town of Baker, along with out-of-town family, played a big role in the effort.
"I thought, 'I'd like to do more to help the kids at the clinic,'" she said. "We have a really great town."
Kelker said that the organization has helped numerous kids from the region over the years and relies on donations and help from many people to be able to ease the burden on the families it serves.
"Almost all of our patients at some point get some help from the foundation," he said. "We give out a lot of money and to do that we have to have help from people like this family."
Kelly Bruski said she hopes that her family's efforts inspire others to help as well and encouraged them to donate to Kelker's Kids, at www.kelkerskids.com.
"That's what this is for," she said. "They do things for our kids."