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Sharing the Happiness

Fiona McKinney

When Fiona McKinney suddenly fell ill, her family's life changed in an instant. Because of her diagnosis, the family relocated from Wichita Falls, Texas, in order to receive treatment at Cook Children's. But rather than focus on the negative, the McKinney family was inspired to give back and pay it forward to other families.

At 5-years old, Fiona was an active little girl who loved playing with her older sister, Adele, and participating in extracurricular activities, including the girls wrestling team. When Fiona's performance in wrestling started to decline, her mother, Jessica, knew something was wrong.

"She's really good at wrestling. We realized she was sick because she wasn't performing like normal and she wasn't bouncing back," Jessica said.

Fiona also began complaining about foot pain and her family couldn't figure out the problem. Her primary care doctor in Wichita Falls ran blood work and within two hours, Fiona and her family were making their way to Cook Children's Medical Center. Upon arriving at Cook Children's, Fiona was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the white blood cells in the bone marrow.

Because the McKinneys lived in the Wichita Falls area, they stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near the medical center during Fiona's in-patient treatment. After four weeks of chemotherapy, the McKinney family was finally able to go back home.

Fiona did well after returning home, until she attended a pool party, when a new set of medical issues sent her back to Fort Worth.

"She was turning 6 years old and she had gotten an ear infection from the party. It was common swimmer's ear that many children get. But, because her blood counts were so low, the infection consumed her," said Jessica.

The infection was so bad, it deteriorated Fiona's ear canal and caused a large growth on her face. During this stressful time, Jessica and husband Michael decided to move the family closer to Cook Children's for Fiona's treatments.

"We closed on a house while Fiona was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) fighting her infection," said Jessica. "Cook Children's is the kind of hospital that people will relocate for."

After 16 days in the PICU, 31 days recovering on the oncology floor, and multiple rounds of anti-fungal antibiotics, Fiona successfully fought off the infection and was able to go home, her new home, for the very first time.

Throughout her time at Cook Children's, Fiona's sister, Adele, was always by her side. They are two peas in a pod and are often mistaken as twins because they are so close in age. Because the two were virtually inseparable, it was important that Adele understand Fiona's diagnosis and treatments. Cook Children's Child Life specialists were instrumental in explaining this to her in a way that a child her age could understand.

Fiona continues her fight against leukemia and will complete her treatment in the next two to three years. In the meantime, the family focuses on finding happiness each day, even on the anniversary of Fiona's diagnosis.

Jessica said that instead of treating the anniversary in March as a melancholy day, the McKinney family chooses to make it "Happy Life Day," a day that they do whatever makes them happy.

Lucky for Cook Children's, helping our patients and staff is one of the things that makes the McKinney family the happiest. This year, for Happy Life Day, Jessica made and sold T-shirts to support the birthday-like day, with proceeds going to the Child Life Zone.

Recognizing the valuable input the McKinney family can provide to other patient families, they were invited to join Cook Children's Family Advisory Council. For the McKinneys, this opportunity was another way to pay it forward.

"By being on the Family Advisory Council, you can be a mentor for recently diagnosed families. It's nice to show others that Cook Children's has so many resources for sick kids and their families," Jessica said. "They really focus on the overall family along with the patient."

Fiona said she knows she wouldn't be here without all of the doctors and nurses at Cook Children's and she is excited to continue to give back to the medical center that saved her life.