GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — Some people just seem to have an impact on others. Bayleigh Phillips fits that description.
Bayleigh's positive attitude during a six-year battle with a brain tumor has touched many people, including former Auburn University football coach Gene Chizik; his wife, Jonna; and their children.
A phone call on Thanksgiving from the coach showed just how big an impact she has made — the Chiziks gave Bayleigh a car for the sixth anniversary of her diagnosis.
Bayleigh and her parents had been at Children's Hospital on Thanksgiving, delivering dinner to families in the hospital.
"My mom and dad were in the room where plates were being made, and I was running food to the patients," Bayleigh said. "My mom's phone kept ringing, but she had not stopped to answer. Finally she looked at it and it was Mrs. Jonna Chizik, so she handed me the phone and asked me to call her back."
Mrs. Chizik told Bayleigh that Coach Chizik wanted to talk to her, and asked if she would be available in about an hour.
She then talked to Bayleigh's mom, Dixie, filled her in on the secret and asked her to video the phone call.
Bayleigh and her parents headed to her grandparents' for Thanksgiving, and Bayleigh fell asleep.
"Suddenly I was awakened by my mom, nudging me, telling me it was the Chiziks on the phone," she said.
Bayleigh talked to Mrs. Chizik for a while until she handed the phone to her husband.
"He was just talking to me like normal. He asked me how school was going, what classes I was taking, and I told him," Bayleigh recalled. "He asked me how I was doing in driver's ed. I shared with him about class, and told him that I was doing good, but every now and then I get a little too close to the mailboxes. He laughed and said, 'I have been driving a long time, Bayleigh, and every now and then I get a little too close to the mailboxes, too."
Bayleigh said they laughed about that, then Chizik told her something that left her speechless and in tears.
"He said, 'You know, me and Mrs. Jonna have known you for a long time, and you are such a responsible young lady and such an inspiration to us, we wanted to tell you that we got you a car,'" she said. "I just cried and cried. I could not believe it."
Bayleigh then talked to one of the Chiziks' daughters, Landry, who is a twin and also is 15 years old.
"She was so excited for me, she was just bubbling all over the place," Bayleigh said. "That alone speaks volumes for the kind of kids they have raised. They are very loving, caring and giving children. All I could do was cry. I was so humbled, shocked, surprised and overwhelmed."
She said she was overwhelmed that the Chiziks took time on Thanksgiving, two days before the Iron Bowl against Alabama, to call her with the news.
Bayleigh, a huge Auburn fan, first became acquainted with the Chiziks in 2010, at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet.
Mrs. Chizik sat down at the Phillipses' table and began talking to them.
"She was so down-to-earth and talked to me like we had known each other forever," Bayleigh said.
She saw Coach Chizik two months later at the Greater Birmingham Auburn Club kickoff party.
"I will never forget when I walked up to him to get him to sign my jersey, and he remembered me," Bayleigh said. "I could not believe it. All the people he sees every day, and he remembered me. That made my day."
In August of that year, Bayleigh found out her original tumor had grown and there was a new area of concern. Doctors initially thought she had a new tumor, but it was attached to the original one. She already had completed a 70-week cycle of chemotherapy, and the news was unexpected.
"At first I was a little heartbroken," Bayleigh said. "Once we got over the initial shock, I was ready to go. I know God has a plan for me, but sometimes I wish He would (show) me the blueprint, so I could be a little more prepared for bombs like that."
The same day she got the news about the tumor growth, she got a message on her cellphone from Mrs. Chizik telling her she was praying.
"I was so encouraged by that call," Bayleigh said. "It made me feel so special that once again she had thought of me, with all that she has going on."
On her 13th birthday, on Aug. 20, 2010, Bayleigh received a call from Coach Chizik to wish her a happy birthday.
"I was so super excited," she said.
Once at her party, she received a call from Mrs. Chizik.
"She wished me a happy birthday, and had me describe my entire birthday to her," she said. "She asked me all about my cake, the food, the music, the decorations, who all was coming. She made me feel like she cared about every detail."
On Oct. 23 of that year, Bayleigh and her mom were invited to join aTeam Ministries for what was called the Auburn Wish Trip. Bayleigh described the day as "unbelievable."
"We started the day with lemonade from Toomer's Drug Store, met Aubie, got to tour the locker room, trophy rooms, press room (and) press box," she said. "We got to go on the field, and they put our names in lights around the stadium. We got to be on the field during warm-ups, inside the Tiger Walk, had pictures taken with the eagle."
They sat in the Chiziks' box that day and were served all types of food and drinks.
"That should have been enough, but Mrs. Chizik came to the box, got all the kids with cancer and took us to get ice cream," Bayleigh said. "She got down on her knees in the floor and talked to each kid like they were the only person in the room. She asked them what all they wanted to do, did they have any special wishes, and she made each one of them happen.
"That was like nothing I had ever experienced before. We beat LSU that day, and yes, we rolled Toomer's Corner."
Within months, the Phillipses' found out the chemo was not working and the tumor had continued to grow, so Bayleigh began radiation in November 2010.
Soon afterward, aTeam Ministries was planning Art Gala, a fundraiser, and the Chiziks were the featured speakers.
"I was chosen as one of 12 artists that year," Bayleigh said. "I was paired with a great artist named Lee Wilson."
Wilson's speciality is angels, she said, and he had done a painting of angels that represented the Chiziks' three children.
"So it was Mrs. Chizik's idea to pair myself and Lee to paint that year," she said.
That night she met Landry for the first time.
"We just really clicked," Bayleigh said. "She is a very outgoing girl and ended up purchasing my painting at the auction that night."
Mrs. Chizik sent Bayleigh a text the night Auburn won the national championship.
"She sent me a very encouraging message that night," she said.
They stayed in contact during the next two years through Facebook, aTeam Ministries and by cellphone.
However, Bayleigh had no idea about the car.
She has not been able to go to school for several weeks because of low blood counts and sickness.
But because it would only be her family in the car, and she would not be exposed to a lot of germs, she was able to go to Montgomery to pick up the car, which she has named "the Foxy Box."
"I was so excited all the way there," she said, although all the excitement left her exhausted and she slept all the way home.
Bayleigh still sometimes pinches herself to make sure the gift is real, and she says the Chiziks' act of kindness has inspired her to make a difference with the gifts God has given her.
"You don't have to be an SEC coach or a movie star," she said. "We can all give in our own capacity."
Bayleigh said one thing she has learned is to "pay it forward."
"I have always tried to give back to the organizations and foundations that have helped my family on this journey, as well as to the families that have a child with cancer and to any church or youth group that has asked me to speak," she said.
"I don't know why I was chosen for this journey. But I will never pass on the opportunity to share with others what has God has done in my life in the midst of the storm. This may seem cliché, but life is what you make it."
Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com