Bentonville’s Hayden Meythaler was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was just 22 months old in October 2017, one day after she was adopted by Kerry and Ann Meythaler.
The 4-year-old has been a patient at Arkansas Children’s Hospital going through treatment since, but finished up her last round Jan 19, 2018.
Thanks to a donation from Northwestern Mutual Conway, Hayden got to take part in the first ceremonial ringing of the bell — the only one of its kind in the state — to mark the completion of her care on March 27 at the hospital.
Northwestern Mutual’s Justin Phillips told the Log Cabin Democrat that the idea for the bell ceremony came from a ritual they saw implemented at the business’s annual meeting in Milwaukee recently.
There, a patient, who had undergone treatment and was a part of Alex’s Lemonade Stand — a philanthropic organization Northwestern Mutual supports — had the opportunity to ring a bell to celebrate the closure of their treatments.
After that, Phillips said, he was meeting with one of his clients who happens to work at ACH in the oncology department and she said that type of ritual was awesome and she wished ACH had something like that.
Months later, that wish became a reality on Tuesday.
Ann said the treatment through the years has been pretty intense for Hayden and its taken a bit for the young girl to realize she’s in the clear and on the way to a normal life, something Ann said has been fun to watch her process.
Seeing her 4-year-old daughter ring that bell on Tuesday was something incredible, she said.
“I’m so thankful for that bell,” Ann said. “It was the exclamation point at the end of this long journey and path.”
For Hayden to step up and get to ring the bell, she said, signified a finalization to not only the young girl, but also to her parents and her siblings, Ann said.
Phillips said that was an aspect of the ceremony he wasn’t expecting.
“Being at the ceremony … it was awesome,” he said. “I think, I thought it would be more impactful for the kids, at that moment, but I think, really, it was a time of closure for the parents [as well].”
Phillips said he could tell it was a relief to be there.
Northwestern Mutual donated both the bell and the plaque it is attached to and has promised to donate the Dr. Seuss book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” which is featured on the plaque, to every kids that rings the bell.
In addition, instead of having a string hanging from the bell, due to germs, the nurses came up with an alternative — a keychain with a bell on the end that patients can take with them after the fact as a kind of trophy.
Ann said Hayden has that keychain on her at all times and calls it her own “cancer bell.”
“It was really impactful,” Phillips said. “Way more than we thought.”
For him, the business donated a bell for a small cost, he said, but it’s the patients who do the real work.
“All we did was screw a bell on the wall,” Phillips said. “They’re the ones that went through the chemo and had to go through all the [possible] surgeries and all of that stuff that they go through.”
Ultimately, he said, it felt good to be able to provide everyone with a type of relief and hopes Hayden and every kid after that gets to ring the bell remembers their day for years to come.
“We are grateful for the donors who made possible this day, Northwestern Mutual, thank you for your thoughtful gift,” an ACH representative said. “It’s because of your kindness that the children we serve have a better today and a healthier tomorrow.”