MacKenzie Derr | Young Hero Award from Alabama Public Television

MacKenzie Derr

Vestavia Hills High School

Vestavia Hills, Alabama

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.

Young Hero Sponsors

The Young Heroes Program is made possible through the support of:

Derek Chen

Harris Trust


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These educational programs and services of Alabama Public Television made possible by the generous support of the following contributors:

Community Events & Engagement
  • Books-A-Million, Young Heroes
  • Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama, Be My Neighbor Day/Young Heroes
  • Brookmont Capital Management, Young Heroes
  • C. W. Daniel Charitable Trust, Young Heroes
  • Medical Properties Trust, Young Heroes
  • Fred Rogers Productions/PNC, Be My Neighbor Day
  • WNET-CPB, Sesame Street in Communities
General Support
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)
  • Public Broadcasting Services (PBS)
Learning Adventures
  • Alabama Bicentennial Commission
  • Alabama Humanities Foundation
    a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Alabama State Council on the Arts
    a state program of the National Endowment for the Arts
  • American Graduate
    a program of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Daniel Foundation of Alabama
  • Malone Family Foundation
  • Robert Meyer Foundation
  • Sybil Smith Foundation
  • Troy Univiersity
  • U.S. Space & Rocket Center
  • Wells Fargo Foundation
Media Library
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting, American Graduate
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting, American Graduate, Getting To Work
PBS Kids Programs
  • Alabama Department of Human Resources
  • Alabama Power Company
  • Books-A-Million
  • Children’s of Alabama
  • HEAL Alabama
  • Medical Properties Trust
  • U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Professional Development for Educators
  • Community Foundation of South Alabama, PBS KIDS EdCamp
  • Sybil Smith Foundation, PBS KIDS EdCamp
Workforce Development
  • CAWACO, Career Forward
  • Southeast Alabama Works, Career Forward

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