AFD, APD give child battling cancer memorable homecoming

Published 8:56 pm Saturday, March 30, 2019

By Michael Brooks / Special to the Reporter

ALABASTER – Leif and Kelli Wallander actually “googled” the best places to raise a family and discovered Alabaster where they moved from Las Vegas last June. They had a different sort of homecoming on Saturday when their son, Brayden, 6, returned to the city after treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis. The Alabaster Fire and Police departments partnered to give Brayden an unforgettable welcome home.

Fire Dept. Capt. Nathan Smitherman explained that a Shelby County non-profit, “Strands,” paved the way for Brayden to tour Fire Station No. 1 and get a parade ride home with sirens blaring and lights flashing.

“We’ve sponsored a few parties and visited some kids, but today is something new for us,” Smitherman said. “We learned Brayden loves fire trucks and firefighters, so we wanted to make today special for him.”

Smitherman said Brayden suffered headaches last summer and brain scans revealed his cancer.

“Things are looking good now, so we’re happy for him,” he said.

Friends and family gathered at the station to celebrate with cake and presents for Brayden, including his own personalized fire fighter hat, uniform and challenge coin. The young man shook hands with all officers and had his picture made with them.

Leif Wallander said Brayden was a “professional” at getting his picture made.

“His smile is automatic!” he said.

“This is exciting for us, and a little bit frightening, too, since we’re not next to St. Jude’s,” said Kelli Wallander. “We’ve been there eight months with the exception of a break in November. Brayden’s last two scans have been good, so he’s been cancer-free for two months.”

Amy Nelson of Columbiana, founder and president of “Strands,” said her organization learned of Brayden’s sickness and featured him as one of their “highlight families.”

“We took ten days and sold items and services donated to us, and all profits went 100 percent to the Wallanders,” she said. “We’re a relatively new organization and our mission is to help  families with children who have medical needs.”

After his personal tour of the fire station and a fire truck, Brayden enjoyed a full parade back home to the Navajo Hills area where neighbors turned out in force.

“Is this awesome, Brayden?” his father asked.

The young man responded by jumping up and down and screaming “Yay!”

The “Strands” Facebook page is


All photos available here.