Defining Faith

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I could probably write 100 different inspirational stories about the people that I have met since first getting the news that one of our twins would be born with Down Syndrome. There are so many examples of courage, faith and determination in our local San Antonio support group. One  person that I feel very compelled to tell you about is the first person I met in this large group of parents. I remember being scared to death of not knowing what to expect when walking into the  Down Syndrome Association of San Antonio’s support group (DSASA). Five months pregnant with twins, I thought I would sneak quietly in the meeting that had already begun. I soon found out that there is no such thing as quiet allowed in this group, especially one with McKenna Powell in attendance.

Quickly making her way to introduce herself, McKenna held her then six-month old daughter, Darah, in her arms. Darah was the very first baby that I had ever seen with Trisomy 21. She was beautiful. McKenna’s eyes lit up as she asked me questions and in turn told me all about her infant daughter. I was immediately put at ease about the diagnosis after getting very scary predictions from some in the medical community. I would continue to seek McKenna’s advice through emails, monthly meetings, playgroups and various social happenings in the DSASA like most of the newer parents. She was the Mom known for keeping up with the latest information on early childhood issues and eagerly shared her knowledge with all of us.

McKenna added to her family in November 2006 with the birth of her son, Connor. Her life was filled with busy days of being a stay-at-home Mother and college student. She had decided to go back to school to major in speech therapy. It was something that she realized as a passion through Darah’s speech therapy sessions and her constant research on how best to help her daughter. Even with two children and her college studies, McKenna continued to be active in the DS community. Each year since Darah’s birth, McKenna and her husband, DJ had attended the National Down Syndrome Congress’ Annual Convention. It was at one of these conventions that forever changed their lives.

They learned about an organization called Reece’s Rainbow through fellow attendees of the convention. This non-profit group places babies for adoption who are currently in orphanages throughout the world. These are children who would otherwise be left to languish in mental institutions because they are deemed not worthy to be part of society simply because they have the diagnosis of Down Syndrome. When McKenna and DJ saw a picture of one little girl who was living in the Ukraine, they instantly knew they wanted her to be a part of their family. This little baby, who would later be named Reese, a family name, was going to require many surgeries and had feeding issues due to her cleft palate. The family held garage sales and bake sales in order to help raise money to get Reese home. She finally arrived into the arms of her forever family in March 2009. The family seemed complete and McKenna’s life revolved around the medical needs of Reese and Darah, chasing a very spunky little boy, and working to complete her degree. She graduated in May 2010. She was looking forward to a summer vacation at Disney with her family and resting up before she started her graduate studies in the upcoming Fall semester. She soon had news that would put those plans on hold.

In July 2010, McKenna was diagnosed with cancer. She was 27 years old. After a trip to M.D. Anderson it was determined to be Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. This news meant that cancer would be a constant presence in her life.

When I first heard this news, I was devastated. In true McKenna fashion, she was consoling her friends about her medical condition. She had no doubt that her strong faith in God would see her through this new chapter in her life. She quickly started her regime of chemotherapy pills; and friends and family gathered to help with her small children. After taking chemotherapy for over a year and a half, she recently received her test results. Cancer can be found in only .02 percent of her cells on the molecular level. This means that it is almost non-detectable..

McKenna has recently started graduate school. Although cancer will be a constant presence in her life, she refuses to let it define her. She continues her work as a mentor to families who are adopting babies through Reece’s Rainbow and hasn’t ruled out adopting another child in the future. Her heart has an endless capacity to love. God works through her and inspires all of those who know her. I feel so very blessed to have someone like McKenna in our community.  Her life is a true testament to faithfulness. God’s work is so prevalent throughout all that she touches. She has reached  across the globe and permanently changed the future of innocent children who otherwise would  more than likely have no hope at all.  She hasn’t even turned  30 years old.  I am so glad that God gave us such a special gift in our Catherine. Without her extra chromosome, we would have never met McKenna or discovered the many blessings of parenting a child with special needs. McKenna is truly an amazing inspiration.

More information can be found at www.reecesrainbow.org and www.dsasa.org

Reese, now a happy, healthy little girl.

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