By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist
A baseball player. A chef. Even an astronaut. These are just a few of the possible answers to the question posed by Kayce Smith in her children’s book What Can Hayes Be? Inspired by her son Hayes who is growing up with congenital limb deficiency (limb difference), mother and son have creatively embarked on their own journey to raise awareness as they navigate it in real time.
When Kayce was 38 weeks pregnant, she and her husband found out that their baby would be born without a right leg. Unsure of how to raise a child with limb difference, they turned to Shriners Children’s Shreveport in their state of Louisiana for guidance. Hayes had his first appointment at 6 months old and was fitted with his first prosthetic leg at one year old. Ever since, the family has learned all they can about life with a limb difference and have used that experience to be a resource to others.
Initially when Kayce had the idea to write a children’s book, her main goal was for Hayes to see himself reflected in a story, but since the book’s release it has proven to inspire others of all ages. As a book lover, Kayce decided to make reading a part of her nightly routine with Hayes. However, when he began to ask more questions about the characters, she realized there was a lack of representation for limb loss and limb difference. Creating a disability-inclusive book also originated from a desire to meet other families with limb different children. “We just wanted to connect with other people who were going through a similar situation,” Kayce said. “I wanted to be a resource for families who came into the hospital at the beginning sixth month stage when it feels so hard.”
Now 9-years-old, Hayes enjoys much of the same activities as any fourth grader: playing video games, swimming, and even making some money over the summer through a refreshment stand operated with three boys from the neighborhood. He’s also getting ready for the release of their second children’s book about basketball this fall, Hayes and the Big Game. “My favorite part of sharing the first book was seeing others’ reactions. They were surprised that I had a book and inspired,” Hayes added.
As Hayes’ social media following has grown, he has become an ambassador of sorts for not only parents and kids, but adults experiencing limb loss as well. Kayce shared a story of a man who lost a limb in a motorcycle accident recently and connected with them on social media. “What we hear the most from adults is that if he can do it, I can do it,” Kayce shared. “Whatever we feel is hard, if this kid can do this, then we can do this as well which I think is really special.” Although some things do take a little longer, like going through airports, or require some modifications, Hayes shows that our differences are what make each of us unique.
Unafraid to try new things from horseback riding to karate, Hayes hasn’t allowed his limb difference to prevent him from living an adventurous life. His message is simple: “you can do anything that other kids can do.” His life invites anyone to answer the universal question for themselves, “what can I be?”
Keep up with the latest updates at whatcanhayesbe.com and follow him on Instagram at @whatcanhayesbe.