Bringing Smiles to Others - Carolina Country

Bringing Smiles to Others

Katie Haynes is remarkable in more ways than one

By Donna Campbell Smith | Photos courtesy of Tara and Jody Haynes

Bringing Smiles to Others

In addition to having Asperger syndrome, 20-year-old Katie Haynes has a long list of medical conditions, some very rare and serious — but that isn’t what is remarkable about Katie.

A talented, award-winning photographer, Katie also helps with the family business of rabbitry, raising and showing both pedigreed and pet rabbit varieties. Still not the most remarkable thing about Katie Haynes.

What may be most remarkable about Katie, a Wake Electric member in Wake Forest, is her attitude and her desire to lessen the physical and emotional pain of others like her.

Katie Haynes toy pickup

Picking up toys from owner Sue Lucey at a drive drop-off point at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest.

“I was blessed to be given a condition called Asperger syndrome, which is like a mild form of autism,” she writes on her Facebook page. “It means I don’t interact properly in certain social situations. I may have been bullied a lot, but I see beauty in my Asperger’s.”

Five years ago, Katie launched an organization named Smiling While Sending Hope. Her mission is to bring smiles to others who have Asperger’s or other big health challenges in their lives. Through the program, Katie organizes toy drives, distributes care packages for hospitalized children, and plans holiday parties and back-to-school bashes for them. Katie wants to provide hope and happiness to those she encounters and share her story, to show these children they are not alone.

Katie also uses social media to share articles and stories about scientific breakthroughs, businesses that make accommodations for those with autism and other cognitive disorders, and even articles about dealing with bullying, something Katie has experienced. In addition, she brings awareness to Asperger’s and other chronic children’s illnesses through workshops and presentations.

Katie shares her own medical story on her Facebook page, “Katie’s Brave Medical Journey.” She posts about going for tests and treatments for her many chronic illnesses that include postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). The long list is mind-boggling to read. With an upbeat voice, she writes about her experiences as she deals with her medical conditions, shares her triumphs, and frankly educates her readers about her challenges.

Katie, through her programs, gives away hundreds of care packets including Vogmasks®, reusable face masks that come in fashionable colors and patterns. She has organized a prom dress donation drive for Joy Prom (a full-scale prom night for special needs individuals). In addition, Katie visits young patients in hospitals and in their homes to let them know, “there is someone else out there who cares.”

A patient ambassador for Duke Children’s Hospital, Katie is featured in its fundraising campaigns. You may have even seen the life-sized cardboard cutouts of Katie in your local Walmart store. There are 15 of the cutouts across the state used in Walmart’s campaign to help raise money for Duke Children’s Hospital.

In 2019, Katie was named a “Hero for Life” by the Me Fine Foundation in recognition of her volunteer work. This organization helps families with medical finances whose children are patients at Duke Children’s Medical Center, UNC Children’s Hospital, and WakeMed Children’s Hospital.

What does Katie see for her future? She hopes to make Smiling While Sending Hope a nonprofit and continue to grow that organization. While attending college, Katie is studying photography and after graduation, hopes to fulfill a dream of becoming a photographer for Disney or NASCAR.

About the Author

Donna Campbell Smith is a Carolina Country contributing writer who lives in Franklin County.

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