When a student is fighting a devastating disease, it isn’t easy to stay on track with the school curriculum.  Brainerd Baptist School isn’t just going the extra mile to provide an education for seven-year-old Hayden Hudgens.  They’re going 350 extra miles.

The first grader is happiest at school. There are no hospital beds, tubes, or monitors. Just smiling friends and helpful teachers.  

The past few years haven’t always been so pleasant for Hayden.  Diagnosed with leukemia at age two, she has spent much of her life battling illness and infections.  Last December, in the middle of her first-grade year, she contracted pneumonia and was rushed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. It was Christmas time, and school administrators were determined she would not fight this battle alone.

Head of School Dr. Sean Corcoran reached out to friends of the school, including Krystal Aviation. The company gladly offered a plane to transport Brainerd Baptist teachers to and from Memphis. The teachers delivered gifts and got Hayden caught up on her reading and math.  It was the most pleasant surprise of her life.

Hayden's mother, Lauren Stithem, praised the school and the hospital. She said, "When your child fights a years-long medical battle, it's easy for some people to forget what she's been through, and is still going through.  This school hasn't forgotten her.  And St. Jude is a blessing, helping with medical care, food, lodging, and expenses. They won't let you pay anything."

When Hayden returned home to Chattanooga after the holidays, she was still too weak to attend school, so teachers tutored her at home and on personal field trips.

On occasion, she feels up to a full day of school.  Her classmates form a small army of protectors and helpers, never complaining when Hayden needs a helping hand.

These days, leukemia is not Hayden’s biggest problem. Other complications have arisen, and she still faces a long road to recovery and regaining her strength.  Brainerd Baptist School is surrounding her with love, on and off campus.  In learning, loving, and healing, Hayden Hudgens has the helping hand of an entire school lifting her up, both near and far.