Michelle O’Day and Cristal Hedrick

Branson, Missouri

Michelle O’Day noticed a drastic change in her daughter when she turned 20 months old, soon after Shaylee received her vaccinations.  Michelle was sure that Shaylee had become autistic.  But everyone in her life—including her husband, Chuck, and her best friend, Cristal Hedrick—begged her not to say such things.

When Michelle told Cristal she was thinking about taking Shaylee to the doctor, Cristal encouraged her. “I was sure that Shaylee wasn’t autistic,” Cristal recalls.  “So I wanted Michelle to get that out of her head once and for all.”  Cristal was devastated when she turned out to be wrong.

After Shaylee’s diagnosis, Michelle and Cristal stayed up 48 hours straight, searching through every online resource they could find. They were sad and frightened, but determined. “When I found Generation Rescue, I knew I had found my home,” Michelle says. “They just got it.”

“And they share information in a way that’s really helpful to parents,” Cristal adds.

Shaylee was set on course and began making remarkable progress—with assistance from a Rescue Family Grant. Grateful for the support, Michelle and Cristal wanted to help others.  Though their city is a small one, they knew there were probably families grappling with autism in their own backyard.  The women created “A Day for Shay & Pals,” a fun family day built not only to support Generation Rescue’s worldwide community, but also to create public awareness and empowerment for their own neighbors.

When Michelle and Cristal began planning, city officials were politely discouraging.  The women were undeterred, and their first “A Day For Shay & Pals” in 2009 was a huge success, with 1,000 people joining the festivities.  Now gearing up for their third annual event, the city enthusiastically supports their efforts.

The women and their families are thrilled to continue their relationship with Generation Rescue.  “They have guts,” observes Cristal’s husband, Brent.  “They’re saying things no one else is willing to say.”

“They work so hard,” Cristal adds.  “They make us want to work hard on their behalf.  And when we support Generation Rescue, we know the money is going directly where it’s needed—to families.”

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