Floral Street student to meet Shania Twain
By Sophia S. Huling / Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 1, 2003
Hayley Smith really loves Shania Twain.
She is not unique among her peers in that regard. But the Floral Street School third-grader will have one of her fondest dreams come true next week when she meets the woman she has adored for four years, thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Massachusetts.
"Hayley wasn't really talking until she was about 4," said her mother, Barbara Smith. "I tell people she was singing Shania Twain songs before she could talk."
An only child, Hayley, 8, was born with cerebral palsy. Since July 15, she has endured three surgeries and spent most of the summer in casts. Both her hips and many of her left wrist muscles were operated on, said Smith.
"She was in three casts all summer. It was pretty intense," Smith said. "Both her legs were in a cast, with a bar in between, and her whole left arm. She's quite a trooper."
Last spring, the family was being observed by a fellow at the Eunice Kennedy Shiver Center, a division of UMass Medical School, who suggested Smith contact Make-a-Wish. The non-profit organization grants the wishes of children with life-threatening, not necessarily terminal, illnesses.
"I had originally thought it was for terminally-ill children, but I've come to find out that it's not," said Smith. "I've read up on them that they've granted adaptive equipment for kids with special needs."
Four weeks after Smith wrote to Make-a-Wish, organization representatives scheduled the first of three visits with Hayley, and last week made the final arrangements to bring her and her parents to meet Twain backstage Oct. 7, before attending her Fleet Center performance. A limousine will pick up the family at 3:30, take them to dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, then drive them to the Fleet Center.
"She listens to her constantly," Smith said. "We've had to have duplicates of her CDs, one for the house and one for the car, so I won't go crazy."
A couple of years ago, Hayley and her friends dressed as Twain for Halloween with "a lot of leopard midriff tops," Smith said with a chuckle. Even the voice on the computer that announces "You've got mail," is Twain's.
"The house is wired for Shania Twain," she said.
Music, and especially Twain, a country singer originally from Ontario, Canada, has served as an inspiration to Hayley for most of her life.
"When she was 2 years old I had her in a special needs dance program," said Smith. "Her teacher said her musicality is such a strong point for her."
Later, Hayley experienced selective mutism, where she would talk at home but not anywhere else.
"But as soon as she heard a Shania Twain song, she would belt it out. That led to her eventually talking outside the home," Smith said. "It was such a motivation for her to speak."
Despite the cerebral palsy, Hayley began to walk between age 3 and 4, but the surgery has forced her to learn to walk all over again. Her mother said the upcoming concert has been a good motivator to reach that goal.
"I tell her, 'You've got to be able to dance to Shania Twain songs at the concert,"' said Smith.
Smith hopes Twain will sing a few bars of Hayley's favorite song, "Feel like a woman."
"I asked her, 'What will you say to her?' and she said, 'I'm going to tell her I love her!"' said Smith.