April 9, 2007

The smile that keeps on giving

By Kelsey Linden
Staff Writer

Walking hand-in-hand with her best friend through the dimly lit halls of Delano High School, a smile widens across her face as she laughs and waves to all who pass her by.

Every person who sees her, remembers that smile. That smile is eighth grader Mackenzie Botz.

She has touched many with her love and care, but none know that better than her close family and teachers.

When Tom and Connie Botz of Delano became pregnant with their fourth, and final, child, hopes and dreams were abundant.

When she born a month premature, both parents assumed that Mackenzie’s development might be slow in the beginning, but when she was brought in for testing, the family discovered something about Mackenzie that would change their life forever.

They weren’t sure what to expect for the future, but they put their faith in God, believing that their daughter was a blessing.

Mackenzie was diagnosed with Trisomy 13 Mosaicism (Patau syndrome) at six months of age. Derived from Down Syndrome, Trisomy 13 Mosaicism is a rare case in which there are three copies of chromosome 13, for a total of 47 chromosomes, instead of the typical 46 chromosomes.

The Botz family went through many nights praying and thinking about whether or not MacKenzie was going to survive.

“It was very hard,” Connie said, as a tear slid down her face. “In most cases, babies diagnosed with it don’t live long.”

Because her condition required so much care and attention, the two elder siblings, Rochelle and Lucas, took it upon themselves to help out as much as possible.

Rochelle was 13 years old at the time of Mackenzie’s birth.

“I remember one person would have to rock Mackenzie while everyone would eat dinner,” Rochelle said.

From the start, Rochelle felt a connection to Mackenzie, and cared for her like a mother.

“A lot of responsibility fell on my shoulders as the oldest sibling,” she said.

Two years behind Rochelle, Lucas was also drawn to Mackenzie.

“I don’t really remember the tough times, but it brought our family together and strengthened it,” Lucas said.

Over the months, Mackenzie slowly progressed, and both Tom and Connie were surprised and thankful to see her walking at 16 months.

In most cases of Trisomy 13 Mosaicism, the child would have difficulty walking and communicating. Mackenzie has shown great improvements in both since she’s been working on them in school.

She began preschool at the age of three. Over the years, her teachers have grown to love and cherish their time with Mackenzie.

Both educators Kay Newdall and Lisa Fouquette came to Delano nine years ago, and both expressed complete joy when working with Mackenzie.

Newdall, who began working with Mackenzie in elementary school, is proud to have seen her develop into the person that she has become.

“I think its very rewarding being with Mackenzie,” Newdall said. “It’s the best part of my day.”

Agreeing, Fouquette added, “She’s someone who, if I’m having a bad day, will turn it all around just by smiling. She’s so full of life.”

Typically, Mackenzie will spend most of her day with either Newdall or Fouquette, alongside her two best friends, Frank Hoskop and Kelly Vanderbrock.

Looking like The Three Musketeers as they walk together down the hallways, Mary Somers, Mackenzie’s speech teacher, often envisions the three of them walking together once again the night of their senior prom.

Denise Swingly, who teaches speech articulation to all three, laughed before saying, “She always says my fiancé is so cute. She definitely loves the joking back and forth.”

Newdall added, “Kenzie has a wonderful sense of humor. She can be so funny and she doesn’t even realize it. She’s just so naturally funny.”

Thinking to herself, Somers smiled as she said, “I don’t think she’s ever down. I’ve hardly ever seen her in a bad mood. She’s just a wonderful student. She’s so eager to please. She wants to do her best and she wants to see people happy.”

Above all though, her family and her teachers has noticed her greatest attribute, “her tender heart.”

“She’s very sensitive and compassionate. When another person is sad, she will feel their sorrow,” Fouquette said.

Mackenzie’s brother Lucas continued, “She feels compassion for people, and it opens the door for others to have compassion.”

When asked to reflect on the earlier years with Mackenzie, Rochelle touched on a time when her family had visited the nursing home.

“She (Mackenzie) was going up to everyone and saying, ‘Hi.’ She’s not afraid to be who she is. Everybody wants to help somebody,” she said.

From the beginning, Mackenzie always looked up to her sister, Molly, but truthfully, Molly believes that it is she, herself, who looks up to Mackenzie.

Thinking deep thoughts, Molly said, “It’s her innocence. She sees the good in everyone and she’s always there for me. I really don’t think of her as being any different.”

According to Connie, “She’s always been very social. She really likes being around people.”

Somers could not agree more, saying, “She’s so exuberant. She wants to tell what’s going on with her life and she’s such a good role model for the kids. She sets just a great example. She wants to find out about your life. It’s not always about her.”

Through caring for people, Mackenzie has been able to put her whole heart into basically everything she does.

“When she joins something, she is really committed and determined to do whatever it is,” Tom said.

These past years, Mackenzie has been involved with a church drama program, vacation Bible school, and 4-H.

“She would love to work at a day care,” Connie added.

She is always “very willing to try new things. I’ve never heard her say ‘I can’t do that.’ We can all learn a lot from that and not care what other people think,” Rochelle said.

Above all, Newdall said Mackenzie takes things to heart.

“Even when she isn’t having the greatest day, the still makes the best out of everything,” Swingly said.

In the years Fouquette has taught her, she feels that Mackenzie has helped her to recognize that life is just life, and to not worry about the little things.

“She always has that smile on her face and that’s just so uplifting,” Somers said. “She’s fun to teach, and I think she’ll do very well in life. She’ll be successful in whatever she chooses to do.”

Her family truly believes that “God has a reason for everything.”

“She has brought out the best in us,” Tom said. “She really brought us together. She is definitely a blessing and I trust that God has a plan.”

To the Botz family, Mackenzie is irreplaceable.

“She is the irreplaceable joy that has taught our family so much about life,” Lucas said. “I will always love that smile.”

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