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MCALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Kaylee Lance is a first grade student at Edmond Doyle Elementary School in McAlester. Her favorite colors are pink and purple — the color of most of her clothes. Her favorite class is art, and her third grade brother, Carter Lance, says his 7-year-old sister loves to play with her Barbie Dolls.
Kaylee might seem like a lot of other girls here age, but what sets her apart from other children at the school on East Smith Avenue is her positive attitude and outlook as she faces a life-threatening disease, the McAlester News-Capital reported (http://bit.ly/1ro5Bjw ).
"I have cystic fibrosis," Kaylee said.
"We call it 'sick-ic fibrosis,'" Carter added. "She can get very sick because of it."
The difficulties Kaylee faces from the illness were compounded recently by the spread of enterovirus D68 in Oklahoma. The respiratory illness is a danger to children across the nation, but it is particularly dangerous to Kaylee and other children with cystic fibrosis. Doctors warned Kaylee's family that because of the threat, they needed to either take Kaylee out of school to keep her safe or have her wear a mask all day.
Kaylee reluctantly chose the mask.
"Kaylee's big thing is that she does not want to feel different," said Kaylee's mother, Devon Lance. "And with her having a feeding tube and stuff and being questioned by it by kids, which kids don't understand, she already feels different as it is. So having to send her to school with a mask all day long is going to make her standout even more. She was devastated when I told her she had to wear a mask. She didn't even want to come anymore."
What happened next, though, touched everyone who knew Kaylee.
Principal Kathy Hunt said she explained to the other children throughout the school why the first grader's face was covered. She told the other students there was no reason to stare at Kaylee, and that she was as normal as anyone else.
Hunt said everyone understood.
Kaylee's teacher, Soania Wilson, recognized Kaylee's fellow students wanted to show Kaylee they supported her. Wilson's daughter, a volunteer at the school, went to a store and got masks. First, it was Kaylee's brother, Carter, and 8-year-old family member, Kaden Hearod, who put on masks. Then Kaylee's class decided to sport the look. The entire school eventually got in on the action.
"I came up (to Edmond Doyle) and I told (Kaylee's principal) Kathy Hunt, about enterovirus and explaining she (Kaylee) has to wear the mask and keep it on," Devon Lance said. "That was at 8 a.m.
"I came back up at 11 to get Kaylee for an eye doctor appointment and all these kids and teachers are wearing masks just to make her not feel any different," Devon Lance said.
The support made Kaylee's day.
"And when she came to me and told me 'I don't feel any different, I am just like everybody else,'" Devon Lance said her daughter told her. "I cried. She has never said that. She has always felt different, and she finally felt the same."
The show of support from classmates is the latest chapter of a long and challenging journey for Kaylee and her family. Kaylee was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth, but she became very sick about six months ago.
"She was in the hospital from March 16 to May 5, and it was very hard for her," Devon Lance said. "She got to the point where she got really depressed. She couldn't leave the room."
"She would just sit and stare out the window. She spent her days staring out the window. She got to the point where she didn't think she was going to go home."
Devon Lance said the doctors feared that also. Kaylee had bacteria in her lungs and the antibiotics were damaging her kidneys.
"It stinks in the hospital," Kaylee said. "I can't do anything. All I can do is lay in a bed."
But Kaylee made it out. She now takes 40 to 50 pills a day, and goes through breathing treatments every morning, but Kaylee does not miss school unless she has to.
The spread of enterovirus offered another obstacle. Dr. Robert Welliver, chief of pediatric infectious diseases for the Oklahoma University College of Medicine, said enterovirus has been known for some time, and there are many different types.
"Type 68 (enterovirus) has been in the state at low numbers, but this year it has become a nationwide problem for unknown reasons," Welliver said.
Welliver said he has not heard of any deaths caused by enterovirus, but said it does cause wheezing.
"People with cystic fibrosis have (breathing problems), and it is likely to cause them to have a flare up," Welliver said. "It might be enough to cause them to have a hospital stay."
Kaylee's willingness to come to school despite her illness and her bravery in wearing a mask has left a lasting impact on the school and its principal. Hunt said Kaylee is a special girl.
"Kaylee has one of the best attitudes of anyone you will ever know," Hunt said. "You would never know that she has anything that was wrong with her because she is the most positive, most happy person I have met.
"She is pretty awesome, she is my hero."
"How am I a hero?" Kaylee asked.
"Because even though you have a disease that is very dangerous, and you have to be very careful, you are so polite and have such a good outlook," Hunt told her.
Kaylee said her classmates' support means a lot to her.
"Nobody teases me about it," Kaylee said. "I feel like everybody else."
Information from: McAlester News-Capital, http://www.mcalesternews.com
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