Kenzie Maddry has been involved in sports for as long as she can remember, racking up plenty of goals, assists and personal records on soccer fields and cross-country courses in Northwest Arkansas.
Since October 2020, Kenzie’s statistics look noticeably different.
Instead of playing games or running races, the teenager has spent the past two years battling osteosarcoma — a form of bone cancer that has proven to be tougher than any opponent she’s faced.
In this ongoing battle, Kenzie has already:
- Been hospitalized for 167 days
- Visited the emergency room 10 times
- Undergone 21 chemotherapy treatments
- Had five surgeries, including one that replaced part of her leg with a cadaver bone
- Spent more than 550 days on crutches
It’s a journey that neither Kenzie nor her family could have fathomed when she began to experience leg pain and discovered a small bump at the end of her eighth-grade fall sports seasons. But the bump grew significantly and rapidly during a two-week stretch, which led to some additional testing.
The bump was actually a malignant bone tumor – and Kenzie needed to begin cancer treatment.
“As anyone can imagine, it was very tough to hear those words – ‘It’s cancer’ – especially for a very healthy 14-year-old girl,” said Kenzie’s mother, Dori. “Everything just kind of paused at that point. Everything was ‘Hey, how do we figure this out?’ and ‘How do we treat this?’”
Fortunately, the doctors were able to help the Maddry family answer those questions. And they soon learned that local blood donors would play an important role on Kenzie’s long road to recovery.
“I am so thankful for all you blood donors out there,” Dori said. “It does make a difference.”
‘SOMETHING YOU NEVER IMAGINE’
Doctors initially thought the injury might be sports-related, but the tumor’s rapid growth indicated otherwise. It went from being barely noticeable to the size of a golf ball – and became more painful.
“It was huge,” Dori recalled. “I could not believe the growth of it within just a couple of weeks.”
But until doctors delivered the news, a cancer diagnosis wasn’t remotely on the family’s radar.
“It’s something you never imagine,” Dori said. “You don’t think about it, especially when it’s your child. “Having to hear those words, we definitely were not thinking it was cancer. Even up to that point. We knew it wasn’t good, but until they actually said ‘It is cancer’ we were hoping for other news. We were hoping it was something else that the doctors hadn’t figured out. It was tough to just hear and process.”
The family created a #TeamKenzie Facebook page to provide updates on Kenzie’s health and healing, which began when she traveled to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock for chemotherapy.
The hospital is a three-hour drive from the family’s home in Bella Vista, which is in the extreme northwest corner of the Natural State. They made multiple, multi-day trips to Little Rock between December 2020 and May 2021, at which point Kenzie was finally able to be treated at Arkansas Children’s Northwest Hospital in Springdale – which is only a 25-mile drive from their home.
But before the move to Northwest Arkansas, Kenzie underwent a unique surgical procedure.
While chemotherapy treatments had killed more than 98 percent of the bone tumor by April 2021, doctors removed a portion of her leg bone and replaced it with a donated cadaver bone. She then underwent additional chemotherapy in Springdale to ensure there was no cancer left in her body.
In September 2021 – 11 months after the leg pain began – scans showed she was cancer-free.
But that’s only part of Kenzie’s healing process.
“Even though she is cancer-free, her journey is not done,” Dori said.
‘STRONG AND TOUGH’
The chemotherapy-surgery-chemotherapy plan gave Kenzie the best odds of being able to play sports again, but it included a much longer and more complex recovery than other potential treatments.
One option would have replaced the bone tumor with a metal and plastic component, which meant Kenzie would be walking again sooner but permanently lose some of the flexibility in her joint and leg.
That would mean no running, no jumping — and none of the sports she was able to do before.
“We were going to take any chance from an opportunity standpoint to help make it normal in the end,” Dori said.
Kenzie has been on crutches ever since the surgery, a stretch of 14 months and counting.
Setbacks have extended her recovery process, as doctors had to remove the cadaver bone this summer after she developed a bacterial infection. Once she’s fully healed from that surgery, doctors hope to insert a new bone in about two months, assuming Kenzie’s follow-up scans show no signs of cancer.
Her next appointment is scheduled for September 7, which happens to be Kenzie’s 16th birthday.
“Hopefully by the end of the day, we’ll get the good news that it’s one year cancer-free,” Dori said.
Once the new bone gets inserted, it’ll take about six months to completely heal. The goal is that Kenzie would be able to return to action in time for her junior and senior sports seasons.
“She’s been a trooper this entire time,” Dori said. “She rarely ever complains. Does she hurt? Yes. She had the most amazing attitude … throughout this process. All-around amazing of how strong and tough she is, even in those hardest times.”
‘YOU COULD TRULY SEE THE DIFFERENCE’
But Kenzie hasn’t faced her tough times alone.
In addition to the doctors and nurses who have gone above and beyond to care for her, she’s also received help from 24 blood and platelet donors during chemotherapy treatments and surgeries.
Eighteen of Kenzie’s transfusions came during her time at Arkansas Children’s Hospital Northwest, which is one of the 44 hospitals that rely on Community Blood Center of the Ozarks donors for blood needs.
But every one of Kenzie’s donors had a tremendous impact on her health and well-being.
“You can actually see a difference,” Dori said. “Someone gets very pale. Their body just gets very weak and very tired. Once those blood products get in, I feel like it’s a complete turnaround. Having more energy and just feeling all-around better. For her, you could truly see the difference.”
Thanks to the CBCO’s involvement in the Thank-the-Donor program, many of Kenzie’s donors know the kind of impact they had on her life. The program allows blood recipients to send anonymous thank-you messages to their blood donors, and Dori made sure to send in a note every time the opportunity arose.
The donors still don’t know exactly who they helped – nor does Kenzie know exactly who helped her – but more than a dozen CBCO donors received a personalized message thanking them for their gift of life.
“That one person made such a difference to my daughter in that moment,” Dori said. “She’s in the hospital, she needs blood and she needs someone who gave to help. Thank you is never enough, because it was out of the goodness of their heart that they gave and by miracle, matched with MacKenzie to be able to support. I just want them to know whoever they may be – and we’ll never know – thank you. That helped us. That helped her get healthy.”
‘IT’S DEFINITELY BECOME A PASSION’
Much like cancer, the Maddry family had never thought about blood needs before Kenzie’s journey. But her experience – and learning of many local children fighting their own battles – inspired them to hold annual September blood drives in honor of Kenzie’s birthday and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
“Going through it, I’ve learned so much,” Dori said. “Before that, we don’t really talk about it enough. It’s definitely become a passion of ours to make sure that everyone is aware. I didn’t realize how many kids have cancer locally and would be in a similar situation to MacKenzie.”
This year’s drive is scheduled for September 6-9 at the CBCO’s donor centers in Northwest Arkansas. Dori hopes to have between 10 and 20 people donate in Kenzie’s honor throughout the week, with each donation having the power to help multiple patients at healthcare facilities all throughout the Ozarks.
“When we give locally through (Community Blood Center of the Ozarks), it stays local to the hospitals,” Dori said. “That’s so important, because when you’re in need, you don’t want to have to wait for blood or there be a shortage. That’s our purpose and we’re hoping to do blood drives each year.”
Even with just 10 donors, Kenzie’s drive could help save as many as 30 local lives.
“I want to do it for those families that may be in that position we were in,” Dori said. “If we can get 10 to 20 people in, that’s potential help for other kids that are going through this. They shouldn’t have to worry about blood shortages. That should not be a concern for them. That should never go through their mind. Will there be enough blood available locally to us?”
While the drive is being held during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, there’s no shortage of people who need blood transfusions. Dori and Kenzie hope the drive inspires a wide range of donors to help neighbors, loved ones, family members and friends all across the Ozarks.
“Even if the blood doesn’t go to a child, it’s still helping someone,” Dori said. “Whether they had surgery or an accident or they just need it, there are so many different stories out there. We want to do our part.”
Donating blood with the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks allows more than 40 local hospitals to continue to provide lifesaving treatment to friends, neighbors and loved ones here in our communities. There is no other organization that supplies blood and blood products to these hospitals, who rely exclusively on CBCO donors to help people like Kenzie. What kind of stories will your donation inspire? Click here to find a drive near you.