By Tyler Schneider
McKenzie’s Fun Day, a fundraising event sponsored through the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), is set for April 29 at Grandview High School (2300 Highgrove Rd) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
McKenzie’s Fun Day features a $5 price tag for entry, with all proceeds set to benefit McKenzie Lewallen, a seven year-old Grandview resident who received a life-saving liver transplant on February 9 of this year at the Children’s Mercy Hospital, to aid her and her parents, Jennifer and Ashley Lewallen, in affording a lifetime of transplant-related expenses.
Onsite, there will be an inflatable obstacle course, an Angry Birds-themed game, a slingshot launch, a concession stand, and other games through which attendees can intermingle, learn more about McKenzie’s story and condition, and optionally donate additionally to the cause. A $25 pledge, for example, will earn one membership in “McKenzie’s Krew,” with a special t-shirt commemorating your status.
McKenzie’s mother, Jennifer, a GVC-4 teacher, is not at a loss for words when describing her daughter as “full of life, energetic, inquisitive, social, a curly-haired ball of wild joy.” “You’d never guess she’s gone through so much in her life,” she adds.
It would be a challenge to overstate that last sentence, as McKenzie had been hospitalized for at least 40 days over the course of her first year of life. At or around her seventh week of life, she was showing some signs of what could have been interpreted as infant jaundice—a yellowish discoloration of the blood which is somewhat common in infants and usually just requires additional light exposure to subside in time.
Jennifer and Ashley took McKenzie to a pediatrician, who had “a pretty good hunch” that the latter was actually suffering from Biliary Atresia, “a condition in infants in which the bile ducts outside and inside the liver are scarred and blocked.”
The condition impacts just 1 in 10,000 to 12,000 infants per year, and it required McKenzie to undertake a surgery known as the Kasai Procedure at just ten weeks of age. In short, the surgeons would need to create incisions and redirect the intestines, remove her gallbladder, block bile ducts from her liver and use part of her small intestine to recreate the bile duct system, while performing any number of tests to ensure success along the way.
Jennifer said the arduous surgery had roughly one-third chance of working for the rest of McKenzie’s life, another third of not working at all, and a one-third chance of being a temporary fix.
Over the course of the next seven years, McKenzie would be back in the hospital with cholangitis, or bile-duct inflammation. Her liver was scarred and damaged due to bile buildup, Jennifer explained. If this continued, McKenzie’s life would have been in great danger, with internal bleeding, vomiting of blood, and much worse in store if a transplant couldn’t be found.
In November of 2022, McKenzie Lewallen was officially listed as in need of a liver transplant. On February 9 of this year, she was “blessed” to receive one from a family who had lost their own child.
And, while a lifetime of medications, regular ultrasounds, biopsies, etc, lie ahead of McKenzie, her life, she is now free to do what she loves with the help of her adoring friends, family, and community.
“She loves visiting her grandparent’s farm, where she fishes, goes on buggy rides, chases chickens, and just has fun being a farm girl. She is very social, loves being around children and playing games. Though she does have a weakened immune system, she enjoys going to school as much as possible and being with her classmates,” Jennifer and Ashley wrote on McKenzie’s official COTA fundraiser page (https://cota.org/campaigns/COTAforMcKenzie).
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