The artificial tree in the corner twinkles with gold lights, which shine down on the little packages below. Cards hang on the walls. But Christmas itself doesn't account for the sheer exhiliration that vibrates through the small living room.

The reason is 2-year-old Sheri.She's asleep, sprawled on the couch with her feet across her brother Robert's lap. Robert, 5, strokes her gently as he watches TV. The other children - Billy Joe, 7; Natasha, 6; and Clinton, 4 - are engrossed in a cartoon, but they sneak sidelong glances at their little sister.

Phil and Roxann Haddon, the parents of the brood, look at her like a kitten looks at catnip. They can't get enough.

Two weeks ago, Sheri had open-heart surgery at Primary Children's Hospital. She came home just three days ago.

There have been a lot of changes for the Haddons. They're starting to think Christmas will be all right this year - a year that hasn't been anything they ever expected.

Just a few days ago, Phil Haddon stood on a street corner and tried to sell his children's bikes for gas money so he could see the baby. He couldn't take the bus because he had the other four children to worry about. (He didn't have to sell the bikes; a friend saw him and filled his tank.)

After two stints in the Salt Lake homeless shelter, they now have a low-income apartment. Sheri, who has had four open-heart surgeries, is doing well. They don't have a lot of luxuries, but they've got the basics: family, food, clothing and a roof overhead.

They're friendly people. Haddon invites you in, lets you use his phone, shows you old family photos in a much-thumbed-through album. He's particularly proud of the van and mobile home they once had.

"We sold them to get help for Sheri," he says simply. "She's already a $250,000 baby. You wouldn't believe the things you can do without when you've got a reason. And my baby's a good reason. I'd gladly give up everything I own for her. "

In some ways, the family already has.

Two years ago, when Sheri was born, they took her to the hospital because she had a terrible cold. A cardiologist who examined her broke the bad news: She had heart problems. Three weeks later, the family car was hit by a drunken driver who ran a red light. Roxann, Phil and Robert were hospitalized. Back injuries disabled Phil, who already had problems with diabetes and asthma. That complicated things, he says, but they'd have made it except for Sheri's medical needs, which weren't insured.

He didn't just wake up one day with an urge to move to a homeless shelter. "It took us about a year to sell everything. It's a real gradual thing," Haddon said. They sold their home to pay bills. They sold other items, one at a time, to buy essentials like food and gas. Now, they have Medicaid, which pays for Sheri's surgery.

It was harder to get out of the homeless shelter, because there isn't a lot of transitional housing, especially for large families. And low-income housing has waiting lists.

"Because we were homeless we had some priority. We just went out and looked and called and looked and called until we got a unit," Roxann says.

"I've got no patience with people who don't try," Haddon says, folding his arms across his chest. "People have got to try to change their lives. Sometimes they have to change what's important. We don't have a lot now, but we have a roof over our heads. And we have Sheri home."

"It's going to be a wonderful Christmas," Roxann says. And they all laugh, as the baby sleeps.