Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 26, 2010

The sky's not the limit

Raceland-Worthington balloon fundraiser supports 5th-grader with medical need

Lee Ward/The Independent

Raceland — Balloons dotted the gray sky Thursday when students in the Raceland-Worthington Independent School District let go of more than 1,000 balloons in support of MiKayla Bonzo, a fifth-grader at Worthington Elementary.

Bonzo will undergo surgery in Phoenix on Tuesday to repair a cavernous hemangioma, a concentration of abnormal blood vessels on her brain. While it is not cancerous, it is leaking and must be repaired or it can cause a great deal of damage.

A friend of the family, Danna Rae Conley, came up with the idea for the balloon release to raise money to help cover expenses. Balloons were sold for $1 each. Karissa Sammons, one of the organizers who works in the after-school program the girl’s brother, Nathaniel, attends, said 1,060 balloons were sold and some individuals donated as much as $20.

“Raceland is a close-knit community and everyone knows everyone,” Sammons said. “It’s amazing how generous people here are.”

At 2 p.m. Thursday, the 11-year-old and her friends at the local schools gathered to release the balloons into the windy sky, but first, her father, Tim Bonzo, thanked the crowd.

“MiKayla has one mother and one father and one brother,” he said through tears. “But today, you are all her brothers and sisters.”

Bonzo also said he’s touched by the support and concern for his daughter.

“I cry every day on my way to work,” he said. “Not because of my daughter but because of these people who care. It’s very touching.”

Cavernous hemangioma is an inherited condition. MiKayla’s mother, Cathy Johnson, was diagnosed and treated for it.

“Mine was sudden,” she said. “I just didn’t wake up one morning.”

Doctors knew to watch for it with MiKayla and discovered it about five years ago but didn’t proceed with treatment because it wasn’t leaking or growing. Johnson said her last MRI showed growth and that there was some leaking, so it was time to operate.

Johnson said she also was overwhelmed by the support.

“I’m amazed and humbled,” she said.

The girl said she’s not worried about her surgery, and her constant smile backs that up. The condition has severely limited her activities, so she’s looking forward to getting back to some of her favorite pastimes.

“Softball, basketball, tennis,” she ticked off as she counted on her fingers. “Oh, and riding my dirt bike and my pony, Strawberry.”

LEE WARD can be reached at lward@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2661.