Mahir Khan is the director of finances for MU's Dance Marathon. Dance Marathon, whose mission is to fight pediatric cancer, partners with the University of Missouri's Children's Hospital to provide emotional and financial support to children, family, staff and researchers.
The first time I met Jayla Kemp was two years ago in the lobby of a local radio station. She was there because her mother, Michelle, helped out with the station’s radiothon to raise money for the University of Missouri Children’s Hospital; I was there because they needed someone to be the hospital mascot, TJ, and take pictures with the kids. We were all waiting out in the lobby just talking to each other when all of a sudden Jayla came up to me to tell me a joke.
“Do you know how to make a tissue dance?” she said.
“Umm, not sure,” I replied. “How?”
At the top of her lungs, Jayla proclaims to the entire station, “YOU PUT A LITTLE BOOGIE IN IT!”
Right then and there I knew Jayla and I were going to be fast friends.
Jayla has cystic fibrosis and has been in and out of the children’s hospital her entire life. She and her family work with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and for the past few years they’ve been a Mizzou Dance Marathon Miracle Family. I’ve gotten to know Jayla during the past couple years and there’s one word that describes her perfectly: diva. Jayla, like a lot of kids her age, is really into (more like obsessed with) everything related to Disney princesses — Snow White, Cinderella, Jasmine, Pocahontas, they all come up randomly in everyday conversations with her. Basically, it’s a known fact that Jayla’s dream is to one day be a princess.
That day came last Monday (Sept. 10) when Michelle commandeered the resources of the MU Children’s Hospital to give Jayla a special princess-themed party. Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals chose Jayla as one of the state of Missouri’s “Champion Children,” which means Jayla and her family get to spend a week in Washington D.C. meeting with legislators and even President Obama. For most people, that’s about as cool as it gets, but I’m pretty sure Jayla was more locked in on the next part — a trip to Disney World where she could finally meet some real-life princesses. The princess party was a surprise farewell for Jayla so she could get a head-start on the princess lifestyle, complete with a theatre troupe performing Disney classics, a horse-drawn carriage, and Jayla’s favorite part, getting her hair done until it was “hard as a rock.” I, of course, couldn’t miss out on this opportunity to party with my pint-sized companion, so naturally I donned a feather boa, grabbed as many bottles of bubbles as I could, and had a rocking good time with Princess Jayla.
The treatments Jayla receives at the MU Children’s Hospital, along with the assistance Mizzou Dance Marathon provides for her family, are what keep her alive day in and day out. However, being alive doesn’t cut it for kids like Jayla — they deserve the chance to actually live, especially if they want to live as a princess with a magic wand that blows bubbles.
In the end, Jayla is a regular, happy kid who just happens to be stuck with a disease no one deserves, and that’s what makes her a miracle.