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McKenzie Carey is a 12-year-old who loves to dance – but due to a life threatening condition, her father, Mike, must serve as her dance partner, helping her to perform her routines.
Now, thanks to a viral YouTube video with over 3 million views, everyone can watch her father dance around McKenzie’s wheelchair during a beauty pageant, pick her up and make her absolutely beam.
McKenzie, who lives in Dallas, Ga., was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease when she was 15 months old. She’s unable to walk or feed herself, and she only speaks a few words. Mitochondrial disease results from failure of the mitochondria – cellular compartments responsible for creating more than 90 percent of the body’s energy – ultimately leading to cell injury and even cell death. According to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, the disease significantly damages the cells of the brain, heart, liver, skeletal muscles, kidney and endocrine and respiratory systems. There are no known cures.
Despite the diagnosis, McKenzie’s family has always wanted her to have a typical childhood, so when her mom, Tammy, signed her up for pageants six or seven years ago, it was about making her happy.
“When my wife first started [taking McKenzie to pageants], we just wanted to show people just because McKenzie is disabled doesn’t mean she can’t do what other kids are doing,” Mike Carey, 50, told FoxNews.com.
In her first county pageant, McKenzie was second runner up, inspiring her to continue competing. Then, in 2010, Mike decided to get more involved and, during a pageant, he went up on stage, wheeled his daughter around, picked her up and danced. Tammy and McKenzie loved it, and the parents started choreographing dances together for competitions. They now have seven dances, including one to “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus that Tammy’s son, Timothy Canup, posted on YouTube last Tuesday.
The video was taken at the PageantFest pageant in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where McKenzie was invited to participate by the pageant’s owners Billy and Margie Newsom.
“When our dance was over, everybody – there were probably 500 people in the room – wouldn’t stop clapping… I was blown away,” said Mike, who works as a trucker.
Thanks to the video’s success, the Carey family raised funds on their GoFundMe site—$56,000 since the video went live— which will help cover the costs of essential care for McKenzie.
“If people only knew what this has done for our family; it has really helped,” Mike said. “We literally fight every day and struggle. We don’t show it on our faces, but we do everything we can do give her the care she needs to make her healthy. Then this happened; it makes our lives so much easier.”
McKenzie requires a heavy wheelchair to get around, but the family’s van and home aren’t handicap accessible. Mike can pick her up and carry her, but as she gets older, her needs will continue to grow. The family set up the GoFundMe to face their current challenges and prepare for the future: a handicap accessible van will cost between $30,000 and $40,000, while a special needs car seat costs $3,000.
“We’re trying to set her up to where we don’t have to struggle, and we can take care of her and give her everything she needs and possible future treatments,” Mike said. “What do you do when a child turns 15 years old and doesn’t walk? We’ve got to prepare for that.”
Currently, McKenzie undergoes experimental hyperbaric oxygen therapy and intensive physical therapy, which her family says has improved her health. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses a chamber to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood. It has not been proven to treat mitochondrial disease.
While she can’t communicate with words, Mike says she understands more than people think and her family is able to understand what she needs through her body language.
Now, through dancing with her dad, McKenzie gets all dolled up to perform for adoring crowds – something she absolutely loves.
“People are drawn to her. [It’s] almost like she’s an angel on this earth that just came down here to inspire others,” Mike said.
Given the response from their dances, the pair will continue to perform at pageants and benefits. McKenzie is so tuned in to their dances that, when she hears one of their songs playing, she looks for her dad to pick her up and dance with her.
“She knows what’s coming and you’ll see the excitement in her face,” Mike said.
The Carey family hopes their story will give inspiration to other families with special needs.
“If I have one person come up to me and say they are inspired by what we do, that’s why I do it,” Mike said. “The only reason I do it is to make her happy; she loves dancing with her daddy.”
To learn more about McKenzie, visit the Hope for McKenzie GoFundMe page.