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Boy battling brain condition gets custom-made doll with surgery scars just like him

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Posted at 9:05 AM, Jun 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-04 10:05:04-04

A 5-year-old boy in Florida who is battling a life-threatening brain condition received a touching surprise on the last day of the school year.

More than 100 second-grade students at Cracker Trail Elementary School in Sebring, Florida, surprised Payton Haynes with a custom-made doll that features his same surgery scars.

"He said, ‘He looks just like me,'" Payton's mom, Kristin Haynes, told "Good Morning America." "He loved it, and the first thing he did was take the doll's shoes off because Payton doesn't like to wear shoes."

Payton has a nearly five-inch-long scar on the back of his skull and a scar on his abdomen because of two brain surgeries, according to his mom.

He underwent his first brain surgery at three months old to treat craniosynostosis, a birth defect in which the bones in a baby’s skull join together too early, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Payton also underwent a nine-hour brain surgery last December in which he had a brain shunt put in to treat hydrocephalus, a condition in which there is excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Payton has been out of school since last November. Over the past months, the second-grade students at Cracker Trail Elementary School, which Payton does not attend, raised nearly $500 through fundraisers.

They decided unanimously to donate the money to help a child with a serious illness, according to their lead teacher, Liz Prendergast.

The school reached out to a local charity and they were matched with two families, one of which was Payton's. His mom told the school, where she used to teach, that she wanted to use the money for a doll for Payton.

"For my little boy, there is nothing out there that just looks like him," Haynes said. "I thought it’d be amazing for him to look down and see something that reflects himself."

The school called Amy, a mother of three in Wisconsin who makes custom dolls for kids through her non-profit, Doll Like Me.

Jandrisevits has a long waiting list for the dolls, but when she heard Payton's story, she made a doll for him in one weekend and sent it overnight so the students could present it to him in person.

"This is a big deal, and the fact that these kids did this is remarkable," she said. "These kids learned what true empathy and what true kindness is. If you want to see true kindness, it looks like the face of a doll."

The second-grade students' faces "lit up with excitement" when they presented the doll to Payton last Friday, according to both Pendergrast and the school's principal, Rick Kogelschatz.

"In our school announcement every morning we say to the kids, 'What you are doing today is important. You can do it. We will not give up on you,'" Kogelschatz said. "What the kids did [with Payton], they lived out those words. It was them following through on that."

Jandrisevits said she was especially touched to learn that Payton has named his doll "Little Payton" and takes it with him to his doctor appointments.

"That’s exactly it. That's the whole essence of this doll-making," she said. "Kids should be able to look into a doll and see the themselves. When they name it after themselves, it proves the point."

Haynes and her husband plan to use the doll to help educate Payton's classmates and friends. The family has become ambassadors for raising awareness of hydrocephalus and the severity of Payton's condition, in which something as seemingly simple as a headache could mean another surgery for him.

"Payton will go to school and it’s much easier to take a doll with us and say, ‘Hey, Payton has had some big surgeries under his hair and that may be why he can’t play contact sports or has to leave for a doctor’s appointment,'" said Haynes. "A lot of this for us moving forward is going to be teaching him to be an advocate for himself and educating other people."