By Lauren Bishop
Photo by Kevin McInnis
September of 2009 is a time McKenzie Blackburn and her family remember well. That was when 10-year-old McKenzie was diagnosed with a neuron muscular disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
GBS is a rare autoimmune disorder in which a person’s own immune system mounts an inflammatory response and causes damage to his or her peripheral nerves. This can affect the sensory, motor and autonomic nerves.
“Kenzie does everything in a big way, so this was no exception, but it hit Kenzie like a ton of bricks,” said Blackburn’s mom, Caryn.
At the time of the incident, McKenzie was rushed to Primary Children’s Medical Center, where she was hospitalized in intensive care for 18 days. Her GBS led to complete paralysis.
McKenzie was on a ventilator and a feeding tube, with nurses giving her eye drops so she could blink. Her entire hospital stay lasted for 72 days and McKenzie had a tracheotomy and was in a wheel chair for a year after treatment in the hospital. She also had braces on her legs and went through abundant amounts of physical therapy.
McKenzie has severe asthma and sometimes gets pneumonia from it, so Caryn was surprised she survived her hospital stay without getting pneumonia.
“McKenzie is pretty dang tough, I don’t know too many other kids that have been through all of this nonsense,” Caryn said. But McKenzie’s reply to her mom was, “I didn’t want to die.”
McKenzie qualifies for mild autism, but despite the differences that creates with other students her age, she is very bright and very alive.
McKenzie joined the Layton High swim team, where she attends high school, but before that she had been competing in Special Olympics since she was eight years old. McKenzie continues to grow stronger and faster. Her times have increased by two minutes since last year.
“McKenzie is a joy to have on the team. I have loved watching her grow stronger and faster throughout the two years she has been swimming,” said Layton swim coach Katie Limb. “All the kids have loved cheering her on at meets and getting to know her. We all love McKenzie.
“McKenzie has gained lots of upper body strength and can now start to lift her upper body out of the water while doing the butterfly stroke which is a huge accomplishment for her. At the beginning it was just her head and arms coming out of the water, but now she can start and get her chest out also.”
McKenzie usually swims the 100-yard freestyle and 50 back at her meets. The team always crowds around her lane and cheers her on. She is always welcomed with open arms by friends and family at her meets.
McKenzie is a living, breathing miracle that is respected and loved not just by the swim team, but by the whole student body at Layton High School. She is respected for the way she chooses to live her life. Even though one might imagine something to be difficult, McKenzie only sees it as a challenge that will make her stronger as she moves forward to conquer it.
McKenzie is No. 3 of four children in the Blackburn family. She loves “The Avengers” and Hawaiian Pizza. Her brother Ben is a peer buddy at the high school, but she says she is feisty enough to handle herself.
Layton High student Lauren Bishop wrote this story as part of the Preps Utah student journalism program, powered by Bank of American Fork, which will award two of our published student journalists college scholarships at the end of the school year. Bishop is the design editor of the Layton High Centurion. She enjoys all forms of art, but especially loves painting and writing. She also plays guitar and ukulele and loves the outdoors and exploring.