While Hayden Ryals’ wedding day was already going to be one of the most important moments of her life, a little girl made the occasion even more special. And while the bride had only just met the three-year-old, the bond between the pair was already clear to see. Then, what happened next brought many people to tears.
Hayden, who was born Hayden Hatfield, had grown up in Hartford, Alabama. In 2017 she also graduated from Auburn University after studying psychology and business. And Hayden became a married woman not long after leaving school, tying the knot with Air Force member Adrian Ryals on June 9, 2018.
However, when Hayden and Adrian married at Hartford’s Shiloh Baptist Church, there was a very important guest present: Skye Savren-McCormick. And while Skye and Hayden had only met the previous day, they were already linked forever.
“I walked right up to [Skye], and Skye was walking towards me. She knew who I was,” the newlywed later told Humankind. “I just dropped down to my knees and she hugged me.” Skye was aware that the bride standing before her was Hayden or, as she called her, “Hay-Hay.”
And Skye and her parents Todd and Talia Savren-McCormick had traveled to the wedding all the way from Ventura, California. Talia works as a teacher for the Ventura Unified School District, and Todd is a carpenter. The couple had married on July 15, 2012, and welcomed their daughter in March 2015.
But the Savren-McCormicks’ little girl is not like many children. You see, the toddler began suffering from medical problems early on in her life. Her parents noticed that she would often fall ill, and she had also acquired petechiae – tiny spots produced by broken blood capillaries.
Skye then began having tests to determine what was wrong with her. And, unfortunately, four days before she turned one, the baby was given the diagnosis of juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia – an uncommon form of blood cancer where white blood cells are not being properly produced within the bone marrow.
As a result of the leukemia, then, Skye required transplanted bone marrow. So, her parents turned to the Be The Match program in the hope of finding someone with the correct tissue type who had offered to make the life-saving donation. And sure enough, Todd and Talia were eventually told that Skye had a match.
Meanwhile, Hayden had been at college and was having a hard time figuring out where she wanted her life to take her. In particular, the young woman had been considering switching majors. “I was at a super low. I was feeling like my life did not have meaning or purpose,” she said to Humankind.
Hayden added, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do as far as a career. And at that point in time, I thought that that defined me.” Then one day in 2016, she was walking through the campus when she saw a notice urging students and faculty to sign up to the Be The Match registry. Ultimately, Hayden put her name down.
Then, around a year after joining the Be The Match list, Hayden received a call letting her know that she had matched with a one-year-old child who needed a bone marrow transplant to survive. That little girl was Skye. And Hayden didn’t hesitate before agreeing to help. “I never once thought about what I would have to undergo – any of the procedures, no fear, nothing,” the college graduate would go on to tell Humankind. “I was just like, ‘Yes!’”
However, privacy rules dictate that the parties involved in such a procedure cannot contact each other for one year. Hayden knew little more than Skye’s age, then, when she became her bone marrow donor. Even so, the young woman sent a piece of jewelry and a note to the Savren-McCormicks through the program before the operation on July 28, 2016.
Then, right after the year-long period was up, Talia got in touch with Hayden. “I was ecstatic that I finally got to know [Skye’s] name. And I got to know where [the Savren-McCormicks] were,” the donor explained. Hayden subsequently stayed in touch with the family via email and would receive updates about Skye.
So, when Skye’s third birthday rolled around, Hayden decided to send her some presents – including an Elsa doll from Frozen and a Trolls blanket. That wasn’t all, though: also included in the package was a birthday card with an invitation to Hayden’s wedding. Hayden acknowledged, however, that the invite was an optimistic one, given the distance between her and the family as well as Skye’s condition.
“I know that y’all are all the way in California, but I just want you to know that you’re wanted here,” Hayden said that she had told Skye’s family. “You’re that special to me, and I really love y’all.” Yet while Skye’s parents were doubtful that their daughter would attend since she was still receiving oxygen, doctors nevertheless deemed the toddler well enough to travel ahead of the big day.
Then Hayden finally met Skye the day before her wedding, when the little girl gave her a locket that the bride ultimately draped across her bouquet. That piece of jewelry included a photo of the toddler and the inscription “This heart beats with yours.” And Hayden told The Washington Post in July 2018, “I’ve never been able to describe our bond. I’ve never been able to explain it. That was the most perfect way I have ever heard it described.”
Naturally, the bride was delighted to have the three-year-old serve as her flower girl on her wedding day. And Skye’s father agreed that his family and Hayden will always be connected too. “It’s sort of like we got a new family in Alabama, and it’s been joyous,” he said to The Washington Post. Then the story of the bond was shared online, and people were moved by Hayden’s generosity and the relationship that she has formed with Skye.
“This bride deserves more than the usual blessings and congratulations for also sharing her very special day with another very special person,” one commenter wrote in response to the Washington Post report. Another agreed, “Not a dry eye in the church, and not a dry eye at my house when I read this. Bravo.” Skye still has a way to go with her recovery, however, and has needed another two transplants so far.
The second transplant was performed using the remainder of Hayden’s donation after the little girl had her spleen removed. Unfortunately, though, Skye was then diagnosed with post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease – another form of cancer. This left her needing chemotherapy that negated the effects of the last transplant and required she have a third. Due to rules around donations, Skye received blood cells for the third transplant from a different donor.
Despite the setbacks to Skye’s recovery, however, Todd remains thankful that Hayden stepped in in the first place. He told The Washington Post, “If Hayden hadn’t donated her bone marrow, our daughter would not have made it [to] her other donation. She got us to a place where we could survive this.” But Hayden apparently feels differently. “It has always been the other way around. [Skye] helped me. She saved me,” she said. “She’s the real hero.”