Beginning now, I’m not going to criticize the upcoming work force comprised of today’s high school students because I have seen The Promised Land, and it’s flush with young adults like Lauren Hudson.
Fair readers, stop quaking in your boots about the future of America or too many thumbs addicted to screens or the dreaded notion that The Greatest Generation might never be replicated again, because there’s Lauren, grinding it out at Caledonia High School, on the golf course, as a volunteer, while mentoring – and in her recent past, battling pain and grief that most of us will never experience.
Lauren Hudson is the most recent recipient of the YWCA West Central Michigan’s Tribute Award, given annually to an outstanding student in its service area. Which hardly ever came up in our conversation, because she was a little too busy speaking on behalf of others.
Lauren’s generous heart is perhaps outdone only by her tenacity, a fierce propensity to excel against all odds, and that would include upward of a dozen surgeries to repair a nasty hip ailment that gently haunts her still.
“When I was going into the sixth grade, I started limping, and my lovely mother told me ‘You’re just out of shape,’” says Lauren, a senior. “And over the next week, I ran like three miles for days.”
Lauren’s mother, Amy, winces to remember. A former standout athlete at Ferris State University, and a paraprofessional in the Physical Education department at Lauren’s school, she figured that working out more would prove the fix.
But the limp worsened, and eventually, Lauren was diagnosed with Perthes disease, a condition wherein blood supply to the hip is disrupted, causing bone and tissue damage, and causing the femur to collapse and die.
A Rare Disease, and Painful
Perthes affects an estimated five in 100,000 children, mostly boys, and mostly between the ages of 4 to 6. Lauren, at nearly 13 years old, was an anomaly. In her case, treatment stretched out over a period of years, and prompted her to wear “external fixators” connected to the outside of her upper left leg by pins and screws.
She wore the first one for four months while mostly being home-schooled, then underwent an osteotomy, where doctors split the head of the femur, dug out the dead bone, re-shaped it and cobbled it back together. Then she endured a second fixator for another four months, and finally, a complete hip replacement.
By now, you probably get the picture: inconvenience. Pain. A long-term disruption of her ordinary life, including critical bonding time with schoolmates. And physical therapy sessions that sent her through the roof.
“She came in twice a week for several years,” says Dan Distin, her PT. “And so I’ve gotten to know her really well. This is someone who showed great fortitude. And she’s definitely a fighter. I keep telling her she should be a lawyer, because she loves to debate.
“And I have to tell you, that her mom and dad and entire family were incredibly supportive throughout this as well. I can’t tell you the amount of traveling to see doctors, back and forth between hospitals, treatments and more.”
Lauren continues to see Dan about twice a month for maintenance, so she’s not as prone to punching him as she once might have been. “OK, so one time it was a reflex reaction and I kinda slapped his arm,” she says with a laugh. “He’s got this rule – no hitting or slapping or biting.”
Talk About a Go-getter
Lauren credits her entire family in helping with her recovery, including mom Amy and her husband Pat, and younger sister Ellie: “My sister was my nurse,” says Lauren. “Anything I needed, she would get, and she spent a countless number of hours with me at physical therapy.” She also leaned on older brother Logan and a 6-year-old dog named Cali.
Throughout her ordeal, Lauren missed all of seventh grade and most of sixth and eighth. When she did return to school, at Caledonia High, it was with gusto.
She competes on the varsity golf team, is a member of Student Council, served as coordinator for the Homecoming parade, is a member of Caledonia’s Diversity Council, and was selected to serve as Senior Leader to the Positive School Climate program.
Outside of school, Lauren is a Youth Ambassador for the Children’s Healing Center, a one-of-a-kind facility on East Fulton Street in Grand Rapids that offers ultra-clean playtime options for kids with major medical issues that threaten their immune systems.
She also has relationships with younger students throughout the United States who are battling Perthes.
As you might expect, she’s worked hard to attain a 4.0 grade-point average, and while doing so, has been dual-enrolled in college coursework for the past two years.
On top of all that, Lauren is senior representative for a mentoring program in Caldeonia called “A More Beautiful You (AMBY),” which pairs middle school girls with outstanding high school role models in a 1:1 relationship similar to the Big Sister/Little Sister program. Lauren and others help the younger students navigate changing friendships, independence, personal health and beauty, changing bodies, online safety, career exploration and more. Some 140 girls are involved.
‘Very Capable of Getting What She Wants’
Lauren’s proclivity to assist others might have been fueled by the down time she spent prior to high school.
“I was at home for the majority of my middle school years, and I would see my peers here and there, but it was hard then to fit in. I saw a homeschool teacher once a week. I wouldn’t say I was lonely, but I don’t know how I didn’t drive myself crazy.
“Did I ever cry myself to sleep? Well, yeah, there were several nights,” she admits. Her mom softly notes, “I think at times there was a little bit of ‘this isn’t fair.’”
But then that drive surfaces, and she won’t argue with her mother who says that Lauren “was an extraordinary child” who is not just good at negotiating, but great at it, Amy smiles. “She’s very capable of getting what she wants.”
Lauren’s father, a financial adviser, says there are no words to adequately convey what their daughter faced. He asks you if you’ve ever been awakened at night by a charley horse and says, “She’d have that in her thigh for four hours straight.”
He draws a breath and says just thinking about it makes him tear up.
Lauren, he says, “is sweet and kind, but she’s her own person, too, and has an edge to her that I love. I think she’ll do a lot of good in standing up for those people who need it.”
Which helps explain Lauren’s desire to become a child-life specialist.
“Specifically, I’d like to work in a hospital setting and take care of the emotional support of a child and that child’s parents,” she says. “It’s part social worker and part life coach. It’s seeing to all the warm, fuzzy components while you’re in the hospital. Later on, I’d like to get my master’s degree in family and consumer sciences, with a child-life concentration.”
In nominating Lauren for the YWCA Tribute Award, Kelly Green – a counselor at Kraft Meadows – described Lauren as “a young lady who has overcome many battles, but has never once faltered in her determination, therefore inspiring others by her example.”
And you’d be mistaken to assume that Lauren is only making an impact on kids her age and younger, considering how Kelly concluded her letter of nomination: “You cannot choose a more deserving candidate than Lauren Hudson. Please take the time to get to know her – your life will be changed for the better.
“I know this, because mine has.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Lauren Hudson. And now, if you would kindly move out of the way. This is a young woman on the verge, and you shouldn’t be fooled by the faint hint of a limp…