Clarksville girl returns home just in time to celebrate 9th birthday


CLARKSVILLE — McKinley Hartsell, diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, will return home after 218 nights at the Ronald McDonald House just in time to celebrate her 9th birthday on May 29.

She received a special package filled with a mini basketball hoop and other treats for her birthday thanks to the Casey Cares Foundation.

McKinley will be Casey Cares’ 560th birthday celebrated in 2024.

Caroline, McKinley’s mother, said, “McKinley was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) on June 27, 2022. McKinley had been tired, pale, and complaining of tummy pain leading up to her diagnosis. We took her to the doctor and had blood work done and they were supposed to call us the next day with results. But we ended up taking her to the ER instead of waiting, and the news that no parent ever wants to hear, ‘your child has cancer,’ was given to us.”

She continues, “We were transferred by ambulance to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and her chemotherapy treatment began. She was in remission for six months and then had a relapse in October of 2023. She received a bone marrow transplant in January 2024 from a cord blood donation. Her bone marrow biopsy results are all clear and 100% donor cells.”

Currently, McKinley just returned home after spending 218 nights at a Cincinnati Ronald McDonald House and will go on once-a-week checkups.

The mother notes the difficulties of being a parent to a critically ill child.

Caroline explained, “During the last two years, we have spent a combined 464 nights away from home at the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati. When McKinley was first diagnosed, our youngest was 4-months-old and still not willing to take a bottle. I remember my dad being the one to work with him around the clock to finally get him to take a bottle.”

“We also had a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, so the logistics of trying to care for the other kids while still being at the hospital with McKinley were overwhelming at times. We are so thankful for our family, who took turns driving in from Tennessee, our church family, neighbors, and homeschool community that has loved and cared for us so well during this long and challenging journey. We could not have done this without them!” she continued.

The Hartsell family credits their faith in playing a big part in going through their daughter’s cancer journey.

“Our favorite Bible verse has been Colossians 1:17, which says ‘He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.’ There have been so many things out of our control that we have had to pray and trust the Lord and know He would give us the strength each day to walk this journey. Jesus has been our foundation along the ups and downs of this journey.”

Casey Cares is a nonprofit that provides ongoing, uplifting programs to critically ill children and their families. To this day after joining Casey Cares in 2022, McKinley has received pajamas and crafts, Movie & Pizza Night packages, attended a holiday light show, and more.

“Since we have been limited on actually attending events due to McKinley needing to be careful due to her being immunocompromised, we have loved the movie and pizza nights that we have been able to have at home. It was fun picking out a movie to buy, ordering pizza and getting snacks, all thanks to the gift cards that Casey Cares provided for us,” said Caroline.

She added, “McKinley remembers getting a fun Lego set from Casey Cares! It’s been a blessing to have the support of such an amazing organization. It makes you feel known and loved during a time that can feel like you are missing so much and just wanting a sense of being a normal kid.”

Caroline has been “very grateful for the support that Casey Cares has provided for us during these past two years since McKinley was first diagnosed with leukemia. I especially remember loving the package that was sent with new pajamas for McKinley and her three siblings. They all had fun opening the package and seeing their new pajamas and wearing them!”

As McKinley turns 9, she will celebrate by having a virtual party with her cousins. “She’s sending them party favors in the mail, Pokemon cards!” Caroline said.

“Casey Cares knows that for a critically ill child, each birthday is a special milestone celebrating life,” states a news release. “For the children in our programs, it not only marks another year, but it also demonstrates a great achievement. Casey Cares staff and volunteers work hard to send out each of our kids a special birthday package through our Birthday Blast program – we send over 1,000 a year. This simple act of kindness delivers joy and hope to our kids who are undergoing treatment.”

Since Casey Cares began counting in 2001, Casey Cares has given over 11,000 birthday packages to kids.

“Our birthday program is especially important to us because we know how critical each birthday is to children who are fighting for their lives every day,” said Casey Cares founder and executive director Casey Baynes.

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