Family of man with Down syndrome hopeful as Governor Walz outlines next steps for COVID-19 vaccinations

The pandemic has led to some very difficult choices for people with underlying conditions and their families. Many have been forced into isolation for months on end to protect themselves.

Among those caught in the isolation caused by the pandemic are Bailey Ratgen and his family. We first met Bailey when he was crowned Centennial High Senior Class King a year ago - a moment the now 18-year-old and his family cherish even more after a difficult last 12 months.

Bailey is non-verbal and was diagnosed with co-occurring Down syndrome autism. His parents report his medical condition leaves him extremely vulnerable to lung issues, recalling a flu-like cold nearly killing him a few years ago. When the coronavirus first surfaced, the Ratgens knew they had to do something.

"He can’t get the flu," said Brad Ratgen. "If he gets COVID, he's dead."

Brad, a local attorney, refinanced the mortgage on their Lino Lakes home and used some of the cost savings to purchase a cabin up north. That’s where Bailey and mom Carla have isolated themselves since June, limiting in-person, human interaction with walks, iPad time, and just an occasional car window visit, and a family caroling outing at Christmas.

"You know the winter, and it was really cold and no sun in the days, I struggled. I really, really struggled," said Carla.

But, with the governor announcing the next steps in the COVID-19 vaccination effort, the family has reason for optimism as people with Down syndrome will soon get to roll up their sleeves for what just might be a life-saving shot for Bailey.

While the Ratgens were relieved to see Bailey in the next vaccine priority group, they admit their family COVID journey is far from over.

"Even if we get it on the first wave of vaccines, they’re not coming home yet," said Brad. "It’s going to take some time. We’ll follow the science, see where it goes."

Brad and Carla say they’re also thinking about their other children at home while doing this extreme isolation, wanting them to live their lives and return to school without the worry of bringing COVID-19 home with them.

"This was the only solution," said Brad.

Now, they hope one step closer to getting the family back under one roof.