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Alabama Public Television Young Heroes of 2010

MacKenzie Derr

Vestavia Hills, Alabama
Vestavia Hills High School

Kenzie Derr is a senior at Vestavia Hills High School. She is a dedicated scholar and a member of the National Honor Society, the Leo Club, the Relay for Life committee, and the West Service Pals, a group that mentors elementary school children. Kenzie was elected by her classmates to represent them in the Student Government Association, was selected as Homecoming queen, and was voted “Most Admired” in the Who’s Who of her class. In addition to her current and past jobs at Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center and Temple Emanu-El’s religious school, she volunteers her summers at HealthSouth’s Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital and at Camp Smile-a-Mile events, and speaks to physical therapy groups at Children’s Hospital and UAB.

At the age of 7, Kenzie was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare disease in which cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue. In Kenzie’s case, the cancer was in one of her legs, and the leg had to be amputated. Kenzie endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Determined to resume her normal life with family and friends, Kenzie learned to walk again with prosthesis.

In 2007, the cancer returned and infected Kenzie’s other leg. This round was even more serious than the last. Kenzie had to undergo a bone marrow transplant and many rounds of chemotherapy. The treatment required her to remain in strict isolation for many months. Eventually, Kenzie’s remaining foot had to be amputated.

According to the doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital, Kenzie “broke the record books” in the speed of her recovery and adaptation. Her keen sense of humor was exemplified by a sign that Kenzie made and placed on her hospital door: “Footless but not defeeted.” After a year of recovery and the fitting of the additional prosthesis, Kenzie returned to school, walking without a wheelchair or crutches.

Today, Kenzie drives a car using hand controls, and insists on remaining as mobile as possible. On a recent ski trip to Utah with the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, she insisted on skiing with conventional skis. She has been honored with the 2001 American Cancer Society’s Inspiration Awards and the 2002 Schaffer Eye Crawfish Boil Badge of Courage.

In writing about her story, Rabbi Jonathan Miller, Kenzie’s religious mentor since birth, said, “Watching her go through all this was almost more than we could bear. But Kenzie made sure that nobody would pity her or feel sorry for her…She continues to be an inspiration to us all—and a regular teenage girl to boot.”

For her community service, her scholastic achievement and her determination to triumph over physical obstacles, Kenzie truly deserves to be recognized as one of Alabama’s Young Heroes.

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