OKLAHOMA CITY — Moments after spending time with 10-year-old Hailey Baskeyfield, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel decided he should explain why he'd handcuffed the child.
It wasn’t his idea, Whetsel said with a grin. After exploring his badge and cuffs, the always-curious Hailey, who is blind, begged him to place the cuffs on her small wrists.
It was Hailey’s special day — she is Oklahoma’s 2015 Champion Child for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals — and she was the celebrity receiving the police escort.
So, Whetsel felt obliged.
Maybe it wasn't an unusual request for a girl who experiences and learns about the world by feeling it rather than seeing it.
“It was the bomb,” an excited Hailey told a small crowd gathered at an Oklahoma City hotel to cheer her arrival with her police escort. “I loved it. And everybody out there was cheering for me, and I loved it. It was the bomb.”
(For those who might not keep up with slang, Hailey clarifies that by "the bomb" she means “absolutely awesome.")
Hailey, of Noble, has a rare genetic disorder, Jarcho-Levin Syndrome, which is characterized by malformations of the chest, ribs and thorax, affecting her ability to breathe. If that weren't enough, at six months old she was diagnosed with an optic disease that robbed her of her sight.
“Some of us can’t see,” said Hailey's grandmother, Tammy, who has raised her. “Unfortunately some of us can’t feel. To me that’s a much, much bigger disability than those who can’t see. Feel she can. She’s one of the biggest hearted people I know.”
For the next year — after a trip to Disney World, of course — Hailey will advocate publicly for the state’s Children’s Hospital Foundation, which has raised nearly $100 million over the past three decades for pediatric treatment, education and research in Oklahoma.
The money has helped bring pediatric specialists to Oklahoma and provide more than 200,000 treatments to children from all 77 counties, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.
One of those specialists is Hailey’s beloved pediatric pulmonologist, Dr. James A. Royall, who has treated her for as long as she can remember. Her face lit up when she realized that she’d get to sit next to him at her ceremony at Oklahoma City's Waterford Marriott.
She credits him with saving her life — one that's been filled with a series of remarkable memories and accomplishments.
For a girl who wasn't expected to survive much past birth, Hailey's lived a full 10 years, though she definitely wants everyone to remember that she’ll be turning 11 in June.
She’s enrolled in fourth grade in her school district’s gifted and talented program, and she's such an outgoing bundle of energy, it’s all that the adults around her can do to keep up.
She mastered the entire Cherokee language in just 2 1/2 months, then went on to take first place in the Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair.
She helped develop a Cherokee braille system. Now she wants to master all the Scandinavian languages because of their cool pronunciations.
This year she was so busy competing in her third National Braille Challenge that she missed the annual Soonerthon - a dance-a-thon, carnival and talent show that raises money for the Children's Hospital Foundation.
This year students with the University of Oklahoma’s large, student-led philanthropy collected more than $561,000 for the foundation. That's a big chunk of the Children’s Hospital Foundation’s overall goal of $2.7 million, all of which stays in the state.
“When we ignite a passion in Oklahomans, they want to give back,” said Connor Lisle, 21, a junior from Edmond and the vice chairman of the Soonerthon. “It’s been really cool the support that has been shown for this program.”
Jessica Freeman, a 20-year-old junior from Bixby and chairwoman of Soonerthon, said Hailey is a good example of why the program partners with Children’s Hospital.
There are days when Hailey isn’t well enough to leave her home, but still she continues to embrace life, Freeman said.
Even after she graduates, Freeman said she’ll continue to be a donor because of Hailey and others like her who benefit. They’re “why we need to keep working hard,” she said.