After being diagnosed with stage III kidney cancer last November, Mariah Mackie’s world was turned upside down.
But as the 10-year-old sat behind the MSU women’s basketball team as they faced Purdue University Sunday evening, she couldn’t help but smile.
“She’s a fighter,” said Melissa Staffeld, Mackie’s mother. “She’s still the same Mariah — that fun-loving, smiling, inspirational girl she has always been even though she’s going through this horrible thing.”
Mackie was recognized at the game as part of the Kids of Inspiration program organized by the MSU Children’s Health Initiative, or CHI, which honors children in the community who are chronically ill, CHI director Pam Miklavcic said.
Mackie was nominated by MSU doctors to participate in the program.
“What they are going through is world-shattering,” Miklavcic said. “The Kids of Inspiration program is only a small part of what CHI does, but it’s so meaningful; it’s a great way to pay tribute to kids in our community who are going through these disastrous illnesses.”
The initiative, which is dedicated to creating a comprehensive child health care delivery system for mid-Michigan, provides support through the community to the MSU pediatric clinic at Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital, Miklavcic said.
As a Kid of Inspiration, Mackie was given a special court seat behind the home team bench, her story was featured on the JumboTron, and she also had the opportunity to meet the women’s basketball team and head coach Suzy Merchant following the game, Miklavcic said.
Freshman forward Becca Mills said the program is an opportunity for children to take a step back from intensive treatments to enjoy life.
“I think it’s great for them to be able to come to our game and give them something to smile about,” Mills said. “In a situation like that, you definitely want to do all you can to lift them up.”
Having went through a similar experience when her son was diagnosed with leukemia, Miklavcic said she knows how much this experience can mean to a child suffering from an illness.
“It gives them the opportunity to let their guard down and just be a kid again,” Miklavcic said. “It’s only a couple of hours, but the memories stay with them for years.”
Through tremendous support from family, friends and the community, Staffeld said she knows Mackie will be just fine.
“We’ve learned to never take anything for granted, … you have to cherish every day,” Staffeld said. “You can’t change what happened, you just have to move forward.”
Staff writer Josh Mansour contributed to this report.
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