You can see a huge difference in Kaj since last summer. This is Kaj in spring of 2013.
Kaj in summer of 2012.
Baby Kaj captured hearts after being burned in a van fire that happened a year ago.
"We're just thankful that he's here at all, so we're ready for whatever happens,"Kaj's mom, Amanda Shrode said.
That fire happened a year ago Wednesday on Park Street in Evansville. Fire officials say a four-year-old also in the van was playing with a lighter, and that's what caused the fire.
Police say Kaj Shrode was seven months old when he suffered first, second and third degree burns to 30 percent of his body.
By just looking at Kaj, you can see a huge difference. He's doing well, though he's got a lot of healing left to do.
His mom says this year has gone by fast and slow all at the same time. After what happened, she and her husband are just glad Kaj is here at all.
Kaj, a growing boy, built for battle.
"From the first time that I saw him after his accident, I never would have thought that he would look this good, as he does now," Amanda said.
The superhero shaped grafts on Kaj's face, have faded, and at almost 20 months, Amanda's youngest child is officially on the move.
"He's ready now, he's ready to go. He's ready to catch up to his brother and sister and just go," Amanda said to 14 News.
But for every step forward since the fire, Amanda says there are two steps back. It's been a bumpy road this past year.
"Everything from his mental development to his physical development, everything was put on hold. Our entire lives were put on hold. Whenever he recovered, he recovered very slowly, and he still does," Amanda said.
As Kaj's burned body continues to heal, twice-daily baths, dressing changes, and therapy are the norm. Surgery is a part of life now, too. A life that's difficult and sometimes painful, but also full of love.
"I think we all know how much we love our kids until they're almost taken from us. Just like we all think we know what strength is until something like this happens and comes along, and we learn that strength is not about not letting the bad things get to you. It's about it getting to you and you being strong enough to not let it show for your child's sake," Amanda said.
That strength Amanda and her husband rely on, they aren't the only ones who have it.
Their little man is one tough cookie. A small survivor built for battle.
"I adore him. I would die for him. I would die for all of my kids, of course, but Kaj is just something special. He's going do things in his life, I think," Amanda shared.
Kaj had his most recent surgery last month and has another one coming up in a few weeks.
Amanda says they're working on a yard sale in Kaj's name to benefit Shriner's Burn Unit. It's going to be the last weekend of April if you're interested in donating or helping out.
Amanda says she's planning to go back to school in the fall to become a social worker after seeing how much their social worker at Shriner's helped them.
For a bit more on this story, you can check out Erin Meyer's blog for a behind the scenes view of this story, and her life as a reporter, you don't see on TV.
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1115 Mt. Auburn Road
Evansville, IN 47720