BAKER CITY — One moment Sierra Bingham, 12, has her little brother in a headlock — he hit her first, so it's justified — and the next she's gently lifting the collar of his shirt, suspecting it's on backward.
Hunter, 5, makes no move to change the shirt, and darts off to the playground slide at a local park.
Sierra sighs, and rolls her eyes.
From afar, this could be a typical spat between sister and brother. But in this family, there's something different about even these small pieces of normal life. There is something more gentle between these siblings.
Sierra and Hunter are in a kind of limbo, waiting to hear good news that their sister, Lindsey, 8, will get a new heart.
The Binghams, who live in North Powder in rural Eastern Oregon, know what it's like to wait.
Six years ago it was Sierra in a hospital bed, Sierra who was hours from being connected to an artificial heart, when a donor heart arrived.
Sierra is doing well with her new heart.
But none of the Binghams thought they'd live the nightmare again.
“I never knew this could happen,” Sierra says. “We couldn't believe our ears.”
Sierra and Hunter are headed to California next week to reunite with their family at the hospital where Lindsey awaits her new heart. (Their sister Megan, 10, and brother Gage, 3, are already there with their parents, Jason and Stacy Bingham.)
While they are in California, the Binghams' normal life is on hold.
Back home in Oregon, Stacy works one night a week as a registered nurse at St. Alphonsus Medical Center in Baker City.
Jason is an accountant at Bingham, Bingham and Watt in Baker City.
He grew up on a ranch outside of Haines, and she grew up in Logan, Utah. They met at Utah State University and lived in Salt Lake City after they married.
They've lived in North Powder since Sierra was born.
Now, Stacy is in the process of obtaining a nurse's license in California so she can work while there with Lindsey, and Jason does work from afar when he can.
Or rather, when he has the heart to work.
“Even when I have had time to work, my mind and soul has been so consumed with my child I haven't been able to,” he wrote on the family's blog, www.jasonandstacybingham.blogspot.com.
They update the blog several times a day, using it to share medical news as well as their hopes and fears.
Although Sierra doesn't remember every detail from her ordeal in 2006, she knows more about hospitals and medical procedures than any 12-year-old should. Talk of biopsies and echo tests roll off her tongue as easily as talk about books.
“The hospital has three floors,” she says. “The first floor is offices, the second floor is where really sick patients go. The third floor is when you're okay, but the doctors are watching.”
Lindsey was first admitted to the third floor.
“She got sicker and sicker every day,” Sierra says. “She started a whole bunch of medicines and we thought this is the end of the world.”
When asked to describe her sister's personality, Sierra pauses to choose the right words.
“Sometimes she's shy. And a little sassy. Dad calls her our little princess.”
Which explains the red rubber bracelet Sierra wears — it says “We love Lindsey Lou” and “Our Little Princess.”
The bracelets, selling for $5 each, are just one fundraiser the Binghams' community has staged to rally behind them. Fundraisers are cropping up weekly between North Powder, Haines and Baker City, and so far the communities have united to raise more than $100,000.
The largest fundraiser so far took place July 4, when a steer was auctioned 11 times to raise $79,500 during the Haines Stampede rodeo. To maximize the proceeds, the first high bidder donated the steer back to be auctioned again. Nine other bidders did the same.
Following that event, Jason posted this comment on the family's blog: “Stacy and I have heard of the incredible generosity from our community. We are humbled by the kindness of so many people.”
The Binghams belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and their fellow church members are organizing many of the events. Marji Lind of North Powder is helping fundraise, and said the support is crossing denominational lines, and no one person is the driving force.
An ongoing fundraiser is the website www.heartsforbinghams.com, where donations can be made through PayPal, credit card or by check to the Lindsey Lou Heart Fund.
The site had more than 7,500 hits and raised $9,000 in its first week.
Aluminum water bottles with engraved designs are on sale for $6 at every local fundraiser. During Fourth of July festivities in Haines, the bottles sold out and raised $3,000. (Lind said some people gave $100 for a single bottle.)
And these Eastern Oregon communities are not finished. More fundraisers are planned through the summer.
Since her transplant, Sierra has lived a pretty normal childhood — school, playing with friends, hanging out with family.
“I can do anything,” she says.
But she's not totally in the clear — no transplant recipient ever is.
She has seven prescriptions she must take four times a day.
She also goes to California every three or four months for a biopsy to check for signs of her body rejecting her heart.
Any sickness is cause for alarm.
In May, her sixth-grade class went to Newport, and Stacy went along.
They left on a Monday, and on Wednesday night Sierra was in the hospital with a 104-degree fever. She had strep throat.
“When anything is off with her, they are to call California,” says her grandma, Leslie Bingham.
With seven medications, they must be careful of drug interactions.
And so, with six years of life experience after her transplant, Sierra has a lot to share with Lindsey.
And she will understand if her sister's memory of the hospital isn't quite accurate.
“She'll probably not want to remember a lot.”
S. John Collins / Wescom Wire
Sierra and little brother, Hunter.