VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – An 11-year-old Volusia County girl is sending a message of hope and kindness after she experienced bullying because of her health issues.
"I'd be crying a lot of the time, almost every morning," Paige Proeger said.
She's felt extreme stomach pain for years.
"A couple of times I had anesthesia, two times I had to get an IV and stay hospitalized, tube down my throat," the sixth grader said about her struggles with her digestive system.
The situation has led to multiple hospitalizations, which also caused problems at school.
"People bullied me for my issues. They'd say like, 'You're faking your medical issues' and, 'Why are you like, always running away,' like, I had to run away to the bathroom," Paige said.
Paige's grandmother recalled the emotional stress it caused her.
"She had to go into the nurse's office because of her digestive issues and spend time in there after lunch every day. She had to have a water bottle on her desk and be able to drink all day, and other kids weren't allowed to do that in school," Judy Driesdaugh said. "Kids started to follow her, they wanted to know why she was going, why did she have this special permission to do the things she was doing."
During that time, the family decided to enroll Paige in Florida Cyber Charter Academy, a virtual public charter school.
"That has been a tremendous help to her, both with the medical needs and I think that it has taken away some of the additional stressors that she had with what she was going through with the other children," Driesdaugh said.
Paige's grades have also improved and she's been able to keep up with all of her classes.
Her grandmother, who is also her learning coach, said despite Paige's painful experience, she still thinks about helping others who are going through tougher times. Last year, Paige organized a toy drive for kids battling cancer at Nemours Children's Hospital.
"It made me feel really proud and like I was a hero in a way, a little bit, to let the cancer kids know, people may be mean to them but there's also a lot of people out there who care about them," Paige said.
But Paige isn't just sharing her sense of solidarity with kids. Her next project is to collect food and supplies for rescued dogs and cats. She thought of the idea after she rescued 2-year-old Naomi, a mixed breed dog that was going to end up in a shelter.
While she prepares her next project, she wants kids who are struggling with any issue to know they matter.
"No matter what anyone says, you're perfect in your own way," she said.