CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This is a Christmas story. It is a Christmas story that happened here in Charleston, just last Saturday.
It is one with all the characters of a Christmas story: a perceived Grinch who truly has a warm heart, loving townspeople and a Cindy Lou Who. To be correct, there are four Cindy Lou Whos.
And all came together here last Saturday at the Civic Center.
The star of the story is an 18-year-old Belle resident named Makayla Clark. She is what you'd call a trooper who's been through medical wars. She was born with Down syndrome. She was diagnosed with leukemia when but 3 years old. After treatment, she relapsed and needed a new kidney. She had a transplant. She must undergo intravenous therapy each night.
Last year, Makayla had to be rushed to Cincinnati Children's Hospital. There, much looked bleak. When something magical happened.
"She received a phone call," said Charleston's Marisa Pedro, "from WVU coach Bob Huggins. She had a turnaround from there."
Pedro, Kelly Wymer and Del. Doug Skaff knew of Makayla through a group they formed: West Virginia Kids Cancer Crusaders, which focuses on children with different forms of the disease. Among the children are Wymer's daughter, Ali, who had lymphoma; Kenna's Jayce Fisher, who had brain cancer; and South Charleston's Tre Perkins, who has neuroblastoma.
This past weekend, all were together, along with their families, for a special moment.
Former Morgantown mayor Ron Justice, WVU assistant coach Billy Hahn and Skaff tried to arrange for Huggins to attend the Crusaders' Teddy Bear Celebration Friday night before the Mountaineers and Marshall Thundering Herd met. The toys are given to kids so they have something to hold onto during treatments, etc. It seemed natural that "Huggy Bear" be invited.
The meeting fell through, but Huggins had something else in mind. He invited the children and their families to WVU's shootaround. The aforementioned three (wise?) men secured tickets for the group to the game.
Pedro and her group got the kids ready for the shootaround.
"I've never seen kids so excited," Pedro said. "They
had all their WVU gear on. They couldn't wait. It was a very cool experience."
"Bob Huggins is Makayla's absolute hero," Justice said. "She was nervous to meet him."
Suffice it to say, all went well. More than well.
"It was very emotional," Justice said. "[Huggins] had the whole team visit with the kids. Billy [Hahn] spoke. His wife [Kathi] has beaten cancer twice. He told them to never give up."