In his book No Little People, Francis Schaeffer wrote that “in God's sight there are no little people and no little places. Only one thing is important: to be consecrated persons in God's place for us, at each moment.” For four years during the 1990s WORLD annually ran a set of features with specific examples of Christians who were doing God-glorifying things out of love and obedience but without recognition. We continue that tradition in this new series on people who glorify God by serving others without getting any money or publicity in the process. —Marvin Olasky
Thirteen-year-old Hayden Dollason of Summerville, S.C., loves horses, texting her friends, and studying math in school. But she struggles with the limitations typical of a woman in her 80s or 90s, an effect of progeria, a progressive genetic disorder that accelerated her aging process from birth.
Hayden was born five weeks early, barely able to breathe and turning blue. She was transferred immediately to the pediatric intensive care unit and nine days later underwent tracheotomy surgery to create a hole in her windpipe. She was a year old before her parents, Chip and Cindy Dollason, heard her cry. “They gave us a valve to put over her trach to let her make noises,” Chip said.
Cindy worked as a nurse and suspected her daughter had progeria when she was 2, but at the time there was no test to confirm it. The disorder commonly affects the cardiovascular system, and a lack of cardiovascular issues misdirected her doctors until Hayden had a stroke at age 6. “Once she had her stroke, we revisited progeria,” Cindy said. By then a blood test was available and confirmed their fears—Hayden had a mutation for progeria.
The disease takes a toll on Hayden’s body. She needs a tracheostomy to maintain a stable airway, has low bone density from a growth hormone deficiency, and suffers from bladder problems. She has a hard time eating and maintaining weight because of her small jaw and her narrow nose, which keeps her from breathing as she eats. Cindy learned to add calories to Hayden’s food by using ingredients like cream and oil. Hayden also spent a month in therapy learning to eat faster, which burns fewer calories.
“More than anything, Hayden wants to be like everybody else, be a normal kid doing normal stuff,” Chip said. But her stroke left her without the use of her left hand and weakness on her left side. Her eyesight and hearing also are affected. Every time she gets sick, she needs to head to the Medical University of South Carolina Children’s Hospital for what she dreads most: needles. A recent bout of pneumonia put her back in the hospital for a week.
Public school was forgiving in the elementary years, but once she entered middle school, Hayden hit an academic wall. The school gave no allowance for missed days due to illness, doctors’ appointments, and therapies. She began to feel like a failure, and she noticed the stares of classmates, Cindy said. Inside her aging body was a young girl longing for friends, and she had none.
Then last year, the Dollasons found Oaks Christian School, a ministry of Crossroads Community Church. The school requires an adult to shadow Hayden and pick up on needs or changes in her health. While public schools provide the service for disabled students, private schools did not. So a Crossroads member volunteered to be Hayden’s shadow, and “the teachers all work with Hayden to help her feel successful and build self confidence,” Cindy said. “Now she is in a classroom with compassionate children who love her for who she is.”
Hayden’s classmates watch out for her and include her in their activities. Her recent hospitalization put them all on edge.
Those who know her say she’s an inspiration. Chip said he watched proudly as Hayden told a man at church who wears an ascot over his tracheostomy, “It’s no big deal. I have one too.” The man was touched by her concern, Chip said. Others see their complaints disappear when they watch Hayden persevere with constant pain and shortness of breath.
During a recent horseback-riding lesson at Horses In Service, a horse therapy ministry, Hayden brought her horse, Candice, to a trot for the first time. Riding has boosted her confidence and let her feel like a kid again, no matter what her body dictates. With a smile she said, “I felt the wind in my hair. God is good to me.”