In anticipation of their fifth annual Pink Out game at Walled Lake Western High School on Friday, Oct. 2, Warriors for Warriors recently announced the names of their Honorary Co-Captains for this year’s event: Mackenzie Rajdl, a three-year-old Walled Lake Schools resident, and Kevin Saarela, a Walled Lake Northern High School sophomore. Mackenzie and Kevin will be celebrated during the day’s festivities and take part in the pre-game coin toss on the field.

Mackenzie Rajdl was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of two after continued complaints about pain in her legs and back. After being transferred to the University of Michigan Mott Children’s hospital, Mackenzie began chemotherapy and high dose steroid treatment immediately. Blood tests were administered to determine the exact kind of leukemia she had. She had a number of reactions to her treatment and lost the ability to roll over, stand, crawl or walk. Mackenzie had surgery to place a port in her upper right chest to allow the team of doctors and nurses to administer chemotherapy directly to her heart and blood system.

Mackenzie had chemotherapy treatment every week for the next year. Part of her treatment included monthly stays at the hospital to give her chemotherapy through her port over a number of days followed by a rescue drug to prevent organ failure.

Since her treatment started on March 2014, Mackenzie has had 20 lumbar punctures with chemotherapy injected directly into her spinal column, we have spent over 81 days in the hospital for treatment and fevers, she has had at least 15 blood and/or platelet transfusions and I couldn’t begin to count the number of IV port accesses and blood draws from her arm she has undergone.

Mackenzie continues her fight today. Since Leukemia is a blood cancer and her body is constantly producing new blood cells, her treatment will be two and half years long and she will need to be monitored for the next 10 years after treatment to ensure the disease doesn’t come back.

Elizabeth Rajdl, Mackenzie’s mother said, “I call Mackenzie my hero because she has had a number of complications associated with her treatment and cancer but through it all she has always wanted to play, in any way she could, she has smiled and laughed and she has tolerated much more than I think most people have had to endure in their lifetime. She is so empathetic toward other kids and adults, she looks for the fun in everything she does and she rarely complains. Her hair is growing back now and she is walking and running much better! She has a long road ahead but she has the will to fight!”

Kevin Saarela was diagnosed with medulloblastoma at the age of seven after receiving an MRI. The test revealed a golf ball sized tumor had grown large enough to block his fourth ventricle which blocked the natural flow of spinal fluid through his body. The pressure created from the blockage almost caused Kevin to have a stroke.

After the MRI, Kevin was left sedated and had emergency brain surgery performed to relieve the pressure that was building up. Doctors then removed the tumor from the back of Kevin’s head. Further testing identified the tumor as being cancerous and treatment immediately began. In treatment, Kevin would have to go through 33 rounds of radiation and have four week long rounds of high dosage chemotherapy which took 4-6 months to get through. He also received seven blood transfusions and several platelet transfusions.

The effects of all the different forms of treatment took their toll on Kevin. Doctors informed his mother that there would be a permanent effect on his cognitive function and permanent damage to his endocrine system, bones in his chest and spine, and permanent damage to his heart leading to a continued risk of stroke in early adulthood. Through all of the treatment and the recovery to follow, Kevin continued to fight.

Kevin, 15, has been cancer free for seven years. Last year, he started his freshman year of high school and completed his first year of high school on the Honor Roll with his eye toward the future and making college plans.

Rachel Skousen, Kevin’s mother said, “I believe love, determination, believing in each other, and support heals. I was able to focus on loving and supporting my son because of our community, my friends & our family that supported us. The people who supported pediatric cancer research 20 years ago, saved my son. Kevin is here, because of people like those who donate to pediatric cancer research. Who knows what the future holds for Kevin, but it is full of possibilities.”

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