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Published in CenterView on May 26, 2014
Drew Hayslett
Drew Hayslett

Student Feature: Drew Hayslett

By Gary Pettus

Fierce winds and rain slammed into Jackson, shaking the house on Lyncrest Avenue, where Drew Hayslett huddled in the bathroom with his wife Kaytie and Harry, their 14-month-old son.

“We heard this huge crash that we thought was thunder,” Hayslett said. “About 20 minutes later, I received a text from my neighbor: ‘There’s a tree in your house.’ ”

The April 28 tornado outbreak spawned the last – so far – of three major storms to jolt the life of the Texas native, who in spite of it all, has remained unscathed and undaunted. 

The first was the most destructive, but, if it hadn’t happened, Hayslett said, “I would never have become a doctor.”

He would not have been named the co-winner, with Savannah Duckworth, of the 2014 Jimmy Waites, M.D. Student of the Year Award.

And he would not be starting a new career – a kind of haven after the storm.

Hayslett grew up in Dallas, attended Trinity University in San Antonio and applied for a Teach For America job that landed him in the Mississippi Delta, where he taught art in high school for two years before returning to Dallas.

“When my replacement at the high school arrived,” he said, “I met her; she’s now my wife.”

After a year in Dallas, Hayslett returned to the Delta and taught in Marks with Kaytie.

They had their wedding in the summer of 2005, he said.

“We moved to New Orleans in June, got married in July and lost everything in August.”

On Aug. 29, while they were away attending someone else’s wedding in Madison, Hurricane Katrina was breaking up their home in New Orleans.

The storm pushed floodwaters into the rental house, ruining it. When they were allowed into the neighborhood two months later, they salvaged some glasses and their love letters.

Hayslett had intended to earn his Master’s degree at Loyola University, but Katrina washed away those plans, too.

Instead, the couple moved in with Kaytie’s parents in Madison for three or four weeks and each got teaching jobs. A year later, Kaytie became a law student at Mississippi College, while Drew became, more or less, disillusioned.

“I realized that teaching was not something I loved. I love education, but I was not a disciplinarian.” Searching for another career, he considered a degree in psychiatry, quit teaching, took his pre-requisites and entered medical school.

During his third year at UMMC, he rotated into pediatrics. “It was like adult medicine with better patients,” he said.

“Also, I like the idea of knowing a family for a long period of time and watching the children grow up.”

Without Katrina, he said, he may have never have found his calling as a physician – “because I had never considered it.”

But storms still pursue him. Last year, after he and Kaytie had re-roofed their Belhaven neighborhood home, a damaging hailstorm blasted it. 

Now, a year later, they’re renting a house across the street while repairmen heal the gaping wounds of this year’s April storm. 

Hayslett, who’s about to begin his pediatric residency at UMMC, is already dispensing a prescription of sorts: “If you live next to me, make sure your insurance is paid up.”