Tired and weak from treatments, young Hayden couldn’t do much besides watch TV in bed at the hospital sparking his love and fascination for southern dish expert, chef Paula Deen.
In 2008, four year-old Hayden was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that occurs in infants and children, and spent many nights in the hospital going for treatment after treatment with the continuous news that the odds were not stacked in his favor.
“After his second round of chemo, we were lying in bed and we were scared,” said Lizzie, Hayden’s mom. “I was just holding him and I thought he was asleep, but he said, ‘Mama, God promised me that I will never leave you.’ We had a lot of comfort in knowing what God’s path was for Hayden.”
Tired and weak from treatments, Lizzie said Hayden couldn’t do much besides watch TV in bed at the hospital.
“We’d get tired of watching the same things,” Lizzie said. “So he started watching a lot of Food Network. There was always something new and different on. And he just started to fall in love with Paula Deen.”
Known for her traditional Southern cooking and warm, inviting charm, Deen struck a chord with young Hayden over the TV screen. When Hayden was able to be at home, he would sit on the counter in the kitchen and help Lizzie add spices to her pots, inspired by Deen.
“Cooking was something he could still do,” Lizzie said. “It didn’t take a lot of strength to add something like garlic. He was a great help.”
Before every round of chemo or radiation, Hayden would get to pick a gift. On one occasion he wanted a DVD. Instead of choosing a children’s movie, he chose a four-pack of Paula Deen videos.
“The radiation doctor knew how much Hayden loved her and one time his gift to him was a Paula Deen cookbook,” Lizzie said.
When Hayden was asked what his one wish would be, Lizzie wasn’t surprised by his answer. The then five-year old wanted to meet his cooking show hero. In October of 2010, Hayden’s wish was granted.
“We flew to Washington DC and they picked us up in a limo. Our whole family was able to attend,” Lizzie said.
Deen was to speak at a dinner event in Washington DC but made an early appearance to meet Hayden privately.
“Hayden ran down the aisle to see her and she just scooped him up” Lizzie said. “She sat and loved on him and just got to know him. My husband made a book about Hayden and she took the time to go through it page by page. She’s very grandmotherly and he loves her gregarious personality. Her laugh is contagious.”
Deen and Hayden couldn’t get enough of each other, Lizzie said. Deen showered Hayden with kitchen gifts like spices and utensils and chatted with him about cooking. At one point during the meeting, the two sat in an embrace for several minutes.
“She was like, ‘I could do this all day,’” Lizzie said.
Later at the dinner, Deen recognized Hayden from the stage. Hayden was thrilled with the experience.
“It was exciting,” he said. “She’s funny.”
Lizzie attributes Hayden’s strength during this difficult time in the family’s life to the grace of God and the positive encouragement he received through his Make-A-Wish experience.
“It was refreshing just to get away and enjoy each other,” Lizzie said. “We felt like royalty. They provided everything. I realize it was for him but it was for all of us. All we had to do was show up. It was wonderful.”
The wish experience was refreshing just to get away and enjoy each other. I realized it was for him but it was for all of us. It was wonderful.
Lizzie, Hayden's mom