Strangers’ generosity grants ailing Waterville girl’s wish

Cancer survivor, 13, at home in redecorated bedroom

9/9/2012
BY GABRIELLE RUSSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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, 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: grus­son@the­blade.com or 419-351-0361 or on Twit­ter @Ga­bri­elleRus­son.