Brittany Kookoothe, 13, and her mom, Marlene Neyhart, pause to enjoy Brittany's remodeled bedroom. Brittany, who was born with Down syndrome, learned when she was 10 that she had leukemia. Medical bills made the expense of redoing her room impossible.
Brittany Kookoothe is a regular teenage girl in that she loves Justin Bieber.
But she hates shopping at the mall.
So it was online — and with the financial help of strangers — that she picked out the white bedroom set and the cheery lime green and turquoise paint for her bedroom walls. She chose a wooden floor style she liked and a lava lamp and, of course, she wanted her teenage heartthrob Justin immortalized on a poster.
Her new bedroom, a $2,500 makeover worthy of any television reality show, was coming together in Waterville.
It will be a place where Brittany can take a deep breath, "a soft place to fall," after a lifetime of medical problems, said her mother, Marlene Neyhart.
Brittany, 13, who has Down syndrome, was given a leukemia diagnosis a day before her 10th birthday.
Chemotherapy treatments that lasted nearly three years made Brittany feel tired and worn-out. She missed an entire year of school and at times she was in the hospital, hooked up to a ventilator.
Those years were hard on Mrs. Neyhart, a nurse who worked the night shift and was a single mother of four until she remarried.
Brittany's leukemia is in remission, and she is now a seventh-grader at Anthony Wayne Junior High.
But there were still reminders of the leukemia in the form of medical bills towering at more than $50,000.
The bills made it impossible for the family to redo Brittany's bedroom, decorated in an unquestionably unhip golf wallpaper.
It seemed unlikely the family would get any outside help. Brittany's name was stuck on a waitinglist for years at Make-A-Wish because her biological father would not consent for the bedroom makeover, Mrs. Neyhart said.
That's when strangers, all too familiar with hospital rooms, offered to foot the bill for Brittany's new bedroom.
Jamie's Dream Team, an organization similar to Make-A-Wish, paid for the project with donations. Jamie Holmes, 25, started the White Oak, Penn., agency after her own health struggles.
Most of the donations came from the family of McKenna May, a 4-year-old cancer survivor from Haskins whose parents' dispute caught national media attention.
McKenna's father refused to sign the necessary paperwork for her to go on a Make-A-Wish Walt Disney World trip.
But the trip finally became a reality last month.
People across the country sent the family about $23,000 and Jamie's Dream Team planned the trip logistics, said McKenna's grandmother Lori Helppie.
"We are helping each other because we know the sacrifices we've made. We've known the financial stress. We know the worry," said Mrs. Helppie. Her family donated $2,000 for Brittany's room.
The kindness wasn't lost on Mrs. Neyhart as she watched while the last-minute details were finished in the upstairs bedroom.
"We're just so appreciative," Mrs. Neyhart said Saturday. "We can't even say enough thanks yous."
Brittany, a soft-spoken teenager with a playful bobbed haircut, sat on her new bed as workers installed the chandelier.
She had her paradise where she could control the remote control.
"Now, we have a whole new problem," her stepfather Larry Neyhart said teasingly. "She'll never come out of her room."
Just then a gust of wind blew in the open window, sending the curtains fluttering in the air. Justin Bieber fell sharply to the ground.
"Whoah!" Brittany said, concerned. "Oh no!"
"Don't worry," her mother reassured her. "We'll put Justin back up."
Contact Gabrielle Russon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-351-0361 or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson.
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