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Unbroken Effort

Hadley overcoming low bone mass, continues giving streak amid COVID

Moments of levity are rare when parents share the stories of how their children ended up at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis for treatment.

And then there’s Hadley’s mom, Connie.

“To be honest, she was picking a wedgie and fell,” Connie said on a November morning while seated in a family area at the hospital while Hadley played in the nearby child life department.

That routine wedgie-picking-induced fall led to a broken arm – another broken arm, and set the family on a journey that led them to the St. Louis Shriners Hospital, where Hadley would be monitored for low bone mass.

The condition was brought on by the use of steroids to treat a respiratory condition when she was little, said Gary Gottesman, M.D., the bowtie-wearing medical geneticist for the Center for Metabolic Bone Disease and Molecular Research at the hospital. It makes her more susceptible to fractures and breaks, Dr. Gottesman said – and, indeed, Hadley has had six, plus a few broken toes that she says “don’t count.”

“When her caregivers cut back on the steroid use, she improved,” Dr. Gottesman said. “We have been managing her care and providing ongoing surveillance as she grows.” Hadley’s story, however, is about more than a wedgie, about more than recommendations from the physicians who have helped her develop denser, stronger bones. Rather, it’s about how a now-8-year-old girl has taken the kindness she has received during her treatment and paid it forward to help the kids who are following her.

A lot of lemonade

Hadley came to St. Louis in November from her home in Creal Springs, Illinois, with a bundle of toys and gift cards to be given out to others as similar gifts had been given to her. It was the latest in a series of her kindnesses.

“Shriners Hospital has been really helpful to me, so I wanted to do something nice for them. I’ve always wanted to help the kids,” said Hadley, matter-of-factly, as if all children would think of starting a lemonade stand at age 5 to help her peers, a lemonade stand that would become a sensation in the small town and bring in nearly $1,300 over two days at $1 per cup.

That $1,300 turned into five cartloads of toys that were stuffed into the family vehicle and brought to the hospital to be left on kids’ beds for when they awoke from surgeries, or handed out after clinic appointments.

But Hadley wasn’t done.

The next year she set up her lemonade stand again, this time for one day. Boom – another $850. She combined it with $450 given to her by Anne Koleson after the Daughter of the Nile member won a 50/50 raffle and donated it back. Hadley turned those dollars into items aimed more at teenagers the St. Louis Shriners Hospital staff treats – things such as ear buds and nail polish.

What to do in 2020?

Then came 2020 … and COVID. A lemonade stand during a pandemic is not such a good idea, Connie and Hadley realized, so they returned to a simpler time – all the way back to when masks and hand sanitizer weren’t staples of a child’s life… 2019.

At an August 2019 Williamson County Shriners Club event, attendees donated Angel Dollars – bills that have a 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9 in the serial number – to Hadley’s efforts. The total was $240. When it became clear the lemons were safe from squeezing in 2020, family members added some money to give her an even $300 with which to go shopping for Shriners kids.

Progress and pride

And so Hadley dropped off the toys and gift cards this November after a checkup. Dr. Gottesman likes the progress he’s seen in her. “She’s doing fine, definitely holding her own,” he said. “She’s one of the more normal cases we see, so it’s encouraging.”

With reflection mixed with tears that spilled down her cheek, Connie balanced her daughter’s struggle with the good that she has done. “I’m proud, very proud,” she said. “As a mom, you don’t want to see your child go through something like this. But if she’s got to go through this so she can reach out and help others, then maybe that’s OK.”

Hadley with toys

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