Reeds Spring, Mo. A cancer diagnosis is the last thing a child or a parent ever expects to hear. It blindsides a family, setting all their lives on an uncertain and scary path. But, St. Jude Children's Hospital can be a guide and a life-saver on that path. It was for one Ozarks family.
Hayden Maggard is, in many ways, a kid just like any other in Reeds Spring. He loves collecting Funko Pops, online gaming, and is now, at 13, a growing teenager. "Yeah, I hardly even noticed it," Hayden says.
But, his father, Matt, has noticed it. Because in the Summer of 2016, Hayden's future was in doubt, after he got a devastating diagnosis. "Neuroblastoma: a cancer of the nervous system." Matt recalls, "They found a tumor about the size of a grapefruit above his left kidney... In older kids, like Hayden, it becomes the high-risk neuroblastoma, which is only about 50% 5-year survivability."
Hayden says, "I was just shocked, and I didn't know what to think right then. I just knew we were going to get through it."
And, helping them get through it, and stay #HaydenStrong, is Saint Jude Children's Research Hospital. "There's just truly no end to their support," says Matt. "They put him on the research protocol, which can only be done at St. Jude in Memphis... When we first got down there, we stayed at the Tri Delta Place, which is sort of the hotel that's on the premises, free of charge. There's no cost for any of that. They provide meals. They provide everything. When they say there's no cost. There's really no cost."
While there's no cost, Hayden says, there's actually plenty of, believe it or not, fun, "There was a lot of nice people all the time around there. There was a lot of fun things to do there... "Almost everyday they had something where you could do some sort of special activity or something like that."
Hayden isn't completely through this challenge, yet. They're waiting on some tests to figure out if his current neck pain and lack of energy is recurrence or just recovery. But, he says, he actually enjoys being at St. Jude for his scans, "I always love going back to see my doctors and nurses all the time when we go for visits."
That's the same for plenty of kids around the Ozarks. Because, while St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes, at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the causes of little heroes like Hayden aren't lost at all. And Hayden would tell you, if you decide to help out St. Jude with a donation, "You're saving lots of kids lives, and you're making them really happy."
"They are finding cures and saving children. Right? That's basically it." Matt says, "St. Jude: they're just the best."