A four-year-old who was left paralysed by a rare virus is set to receive an award from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for his inspirational courage in overcoming life-threatening illness.
McKenzie Brackley from Leven, Fife, will attend the WellChild Awards on 4 September where he will meet the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, along with his eight-year-old sister Paige, mum Amy, 30, and her partner Paul Haigh, 41.
McKenzie was just two years old when he contracted enterovirus - a rare illness which caused nerve damage in his neck and left him paralysed to the point where he couldn’t even breathe by himself.
He was in intensive care for three months and remained in hospital for a further 13 months - during which time he had to learn to breathe, swallow, walk and talk again.
His mum Amy said it was a very intense period of time, but her son’s kind nature kept her going through it all. “Everyone asks me how I cope and I just say, ‘well look at him’,” she said. “He’s always smiling, he does the most amazing things and he doesn’t see himself as disabled.
“You can’t be any prouder of your kids when they’re like that. It makes your heart feel like it’s going to burst.”
When McKenzie was in hospital he had to have a tracheostomy (an opening created at the front of the neck to help aid breathing) and was put on a ventilator to breathe for him.
Two years after being struck down with the virus, he is still in recovery, and is able to walk now but his left arm remains paralysed. His neck is quite weak, his mum said, and he still has the tracheostomy because he needs to be hooked to a ventilator at night. During the day, however, he is able to breathe for himself.
“He can’t seem to keep weight on so he’s got a tube in his nose where he’s fed overnight,” mum Amy, who is McKenzie’s full-time carer, explained. “He eats for England but he just can’t keep the calories there because his body takes so much more effort than the average child to do anything.”
Despite such hardship, McKenzie’s focus has always been on others - particularly other children struggling in hospital.
Amy recalled: “There was a little girl in there with the same virus as him and they used to hate having their tracheotomy tubes changed and having blood tests so they used to sit there and shout ‘I love you’ to each other and he’d go over and hold her hand when she had her blood test.”
McKenzie would also give the baby in the neighbouring hospital bed his favourite toys if she got upset and would help pick her clothes for that day with the nurses. When he wasn’t doing that, he was trying to help the cleaners.
He also acted as a model patient, encouraging others to have treatment. “There was a boy, I think he was 14, and they [the hospital staff] asked if he would talk to him and his family because he refused to have a tracheostomy but he needed it,” Amy said. “He was petrified that he wouldn’t be able to speak or do anything. McKenzie somehow managed to show him it’s fine, it actually makes a big difference, and the boy had the tracheostomy put in.”
McKenzie was just three years old at the time and a friendship ended up blossoming between the two boys. When he came out of hospital and started nursery, his kindhearted ways continued. Amy said a little girl in his class had been crying because she didn’t want to go to the hospital for an X-ray, so McKenzie walked up to her and said: “It’s ok, you don’t feel anything, it’s just a picture.” The little girl then went off quite happily with her mum.
McKenzie is apparently both nervous and excited about receiving an award from the royals. “He’s got a smart little tuxedo suit,” Amy said. “He’s also over the moon because he gets to fly for the first time [the family is flying from Edinburgh to London].”
Discussing the four-year-old’s recovery, Linda McCarthy, WellChild respiratory clinical nurse specialist at The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, said her entire team is “proud” of how far he’s come.
“McKenzie’s fighting spirit – his sheer determination that he would regain his mobility and independence; his infectious sense of fun, and his charming personality, helped him endure the many difficulties he had to conquer so far and in the future.”
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