By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The family of a Mercer County 4-year-old battling a rare blood disorder is asking local residents to send in 1,000 Valentine cards to brighten the girl’s spirits.
McKenzie Gibson, 4, of Princeton, is currently awaiting a bone marrow transplant at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Jessica Gibson, McKenzie’s mother, said her daughter has been battling the disease since she was four months old.
“My daughter has a rare blood disorder: Diamond Blackfan anemia,” Gibson said. “It’s genetic disorder. There is a 50-50 chance she would get it. She was diagnosed at four months. She has been getting transfusions every four to six weeks since she was five months old. We tried to put her on steroids when she was one year old, but she didn’t respond. We have been giving her iron for her liver when she turned two, but it didn’t work either. We are now trying to proceed with transplant.”
Fortunately, McKenzie’s two-year-old sister Carlee turned out to be a perfect match as a donor.
“Her sister Carlee is two and she is a 100 percent match to be her sister’s donor,” Gibson said. “The odds were really against us. Carlee also had a 50-50 chance of having the disease, but thankfully, she didn’t. They wanted Carlee to be at least 18 months old before she could be a donor and she will be 2 in May, so she is old enough for the transplant. McKenzie has eight days total of chemotherapy. Both of them will be in the hospital over the holiday to prepare for the transplant.”
Because McKenzie will be in the hospital over the Valentine’s Day holiday, Gibson is petitioning friends, family and members of the Mercer County community to send McKenzie 1,000 Valentine cards to decorate her room and encourage her through the medical procedure.
“I was sitting here thinking we didn’t buy her any Valentines before we came up here and we didn’t get any for her to give her friends,” Gibson said. “We thought how awesome it would be if we could fill her room with Valentine’s Day cards. She just got here so she doesn’t have a lot of decorations in her room. We picked 1,000 and want to see how many we can get. We haven’t really gotten any through the mail yet. We have already gotten some feedback though, from people wanting the address and wanting to send her something.”
Gibson said it can be a struggle to explain to such a young child why she must remain in the hospital instead of returning home to friends and family.
“It is a lot of having to deal with the unknown,” she said. “They can kind of guess what will happen or what could happen, but every child is different so they don’t know what will happen. McKenzie doesn’t understand why we are here. She wants to go home. She doesn’t understand we have to be here so she can get better. It is hard with her not understanding why we need to be here.”
For now, McKenzie’s biggest comfort in the hospital is visits from her little sister.
“Carlee got to come in and see McKenzie Thursday,” Gibson said. “They hadn’t seen each other since last week, so they were very excited to get together. They are very close sisters. They don’t really understand what a transplant is. Carlee is so much more than just a baby sister. Without her, we would have to worry about a donor, cross so many bridges, and worry about complications. When they’re older, I think it will be bring them closer.”
Gibson also started a page on Facebook titled McKenzie’s Grace Fund to keep friends and family updated on McKenzie’s condition.
“That is how we keep everyone up to date,” she said. “It is really helpful so you don’t have to tell each story a thousand times. We are in the Ronald McDonald House right across the street from the hospital, so it’s wonderful. We will be here anywhere from three to six weeks, and then McKenzie will be in Cincinnati for another six to nine months while she recovers.”
Gibson said all Valentines will be delivered to her parents’ house and then brought up to McKenzie in Cincinnati. Anyone who wants to send a Valentine’s Day card to McKenzie can address it to Valentines for McKenzie, 246 Pilot St., Princeton, WV 24740.
— Contact Kate Coil at firstname.lastname@example.org