August 30, 2017
By Jeff Helms
St. Clair County Farmers Federation Vice President Donald Ray Walker test drives a wagon with grandson Payton.
Ten red wagons wrapped in farm images provided the perfect backdrop today for a $120,000 donation to Children’s of Alabama from Alfa Insurance® employees and Alabama Farmers Federation members.
St. Clair County Farmers Federation Vice President Donald Ray Walker and grandson Payton Ray test drove one of the wagons before celebrating another gift — the gift of life.
“This was a special day because we got to meet a young man who gave part of himself to save our grandson’s life,” Walker said. “Payton was a sick little fella, but he’s doing great now thanks to this young man and the caring people at Children’s Hospital.”
Payton, 14, was diagnosed with a form of myelodysplastic syndrome, which affects normal blood cell production, in 2015. The same year he received a life-saving bone marrow transplant from Brent Meuller, 22, of St. Charles, Missouri.
Although Mueller and Payton’s parents exchanged emails, they never met until the reunion which kicked off Children’s Committed to a Cure Marrow Donor Registry Drive. Mueller was overcome with emotion when he joined Payton on stage.
“Cancer is a disease that hits very close with my family,” he said. “I have a sister and brother who are cancer survivors. What a bone marrow donor goes through is nowhere near what a cancer patient can go through.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to help someone who needs help and to give life — not many people have the opportunity to do that, and it’s the greatest gift you’ll ever have and give,” added Mueller, who enrolled in the bone marrow registry when a high school classmate was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Payton, known as P-Ray to his doctors and nurses, also has Down syndrome. He was quick to share a hug with Mueller as his parents Joy and Robert fought back tears.
“What can you say to somebody who saved your child’s life?” Robert said. “Being able to touch this guy physically and know what he’s done for my child’s life is immeasurable. It’s a great feeling. I’m glad he’s here, and I’m glad he decided to do what he did because we’ve got this as living proof of the difference he’s made.”
The Farmers Federation’s Matthew Durdin organized the Children’s fundraiser as part of the Alfa Cares initiative. He said Payton’s story is a great example of how the hospital’s staff blesses families.
“In all of my years working at Alfa, this was one of my proudest moments,” said Durdin, who is state legislative programs director in the Senate. “To be able to partner with Children's of Alabama and raise $120,000 through a company-wide campaign that included employees and members proves we truly are an Alfa family. There are no degrees of separation when it comes to Children's, we all know of a relative, friend or neighbor who has been touched by their care.”
The 10 wagons will be used to transport patients within the hospital. One wagon was given in honor of each Federation area organization director. The directors raised more than $80,000 from county Federations and individual members.
“The fact that Children’s has touched so many lives across Alabama was the purpose behind each and every gift that was made to this campaign,” said Emily Hornak, director, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, Cause Marketing and Corporate Partnerships at Children’s. “Alfa proved that when members, employees and leadership are given a call to action to help Children’s of Alabama – they responded in a very impressive way!”
With more than 2 million square feet, Children’s of Alabama is the third-largest pediatric medical facility in the United States. Children’s is consistently ranked among the best children’s hospital programs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Last year, outpatients made more than 653,000 visits to Children’s, and nearly 14,000 patients were admitted from every county in Alabama, 42 states and 10 foreign countries.