8-year-old Lakeland girl battling cancer surprised with Christmas parade
LAKELAND, Fla. - Christmas came early for a young Lakeland girl battling a rare form of cancer.
The family of eight-year-old Mackenzie Orth said she was diagnosed with Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma last October. Since then, she has been on multiple chemotherapy regimens and has traveled around the state for treatment.
Through her treatment at Tampa General Hospital, she formed a special bond with Chaplain HL McConnell.
READ: Polk County firefighter saves 1-year-old girl who was choking during Winter Haven Christmas Parade
"I started visiting her and playing games with her like checkers, she would kick my butt in checkers, playing with stuffed animals, guitar. Anything that could ease her pain," McConnell said.
Because of her diagnosis, Mackenzie spent the holidays and her birthday in the hospital. Knowing she'd be home, McConnell reached out to the organizers of LKLD SantaCon, an event that was held in downtown Lakeland.
He was hoping they could help with a few small Christmas surprises for 8-year-old Mackenzie to help make her favorite holiday special. The request led to a Facebook post that sparked a large response.
A crowd of people showed up outside Mackenzie's door, including Lakeland police and firefighters, carolers, a horse and even Santa.
MORE: Henry B. Plant Museum hosts 41st year of Victorian Christmas Stroll
"I don't know if anybody here personally knows Mackenzie but look how many people showed up just to support her and her family during this time. It's really beautiful," Bethany Fife, an organizer said.
It was a moment for Mackenzie to be a kid and enjoy the holiday she loves so much.
"It made my heart happy for her to be able to have a moment with her mom and dad that didn’t have to do with pain or tears or any of that stuff," McConnell said.