By Alyssa Sperrazza
Mackenzie Asher was diagnosed with leukemia in June 2016.
Fighting hard for a year and a half, she passed away Dec. 7, 2017, at just 11 years old.
No family can ever be prepared to hear the news that one of their loved ones has cancer and Mackenzie’s dad Jayson, said he and his wife tried to protect her from the terminal diagnosis for as long as they could.
“Towards the end of her life, we tried our best to protect her from the fact that she was terminal and tried to squeeze in as many activities as we could,” Asher said. “As her parents, how do you pack in a life, as much as you can, and provide her the experience that every kid should know when you only have a few months to live? That’s obviously an unattainable goal but we tried to give her some things that would provide her some experiences.”
This final bucket list included things like driving lessons in the parking lot, a hot air balloon ride, working a bakery, and going on a date with the boy down the street.
All these regular milestones for many After frequent visits from former University of Oklahoma football coach, Bob Stoops, Mackenzie was selected for an all-access experience to an OU football game.
“She was able to before the game to the locker room and watch them all run out the field, hear the speeches from the coaches and stand in the end zone and on the sidelines,” Asher said. “After the game, Mackenzie had a crush on Baker Mayfield and she elbowed about every parent and kid and positioned herself to be next to him. They just immediately made this little connection and they became kind of friends right then and there.”
Mackenzie passed away right after the season ended and, upon hearing about it, Baker Mayfield sent out a tweet, giving his condolences. Taking it a step further, he mentioned Mackenzie during an interview at the Heisman Trophy awards, saying how much he thought about her. Even though he knew her briefly, Mackenzie had left an impact on him and he would later speak at her funeral.
After she passed, Asher said the idea for The Mack Impact came from partially from that final bucket list he and his family created.
Looking around at the pediatric cancer world they were thrust into after her diagnosis, Asher said he knew there were other kids in the hospital wings who also had dreams and things they wanted to experience. In honor of Mackenzie and her giving spirit, he wanted to figure out a way to help them.
“A lot of these kids have these long hospital days or visits then they’ll have a weekend doctor appointment here and there or they’re well enough to leave the hospital for a bit,” Asher explained. “During those few days off, if they’re well enough to do something fun, we try to make that happen. Make a Wish is a great organization but those are once in a lifetime, big, logistical trips like Disney World. We try to do this on a smaller scale. What can do in OKC or Yukon? It was all sparked because of what we tried to do for Mackenzie.”
So far, The Mack Impact has helped five kids battling cancer, making their wishes come true. Asher said sometimes, it’s been simple things like one boy who wanted to play a Batman arcade game.
Because the boy was too sick to leave the hospital, Asher reached out to Incredible Pizza and they were able to bring the game to the hospital so the boy could play.
It was a private moment for him and his family, getting to watch him have fun, even if it was just for a couple of hours.
Another wish they were able to fulfill was for Katelyn, a young girl fighting Ewing’s Sarcoma.
“She is an aspiring musician who writes her own songs, sings, and also plays multiple instruments,” Asher said. “We were able to hook her up with Life Church and they’ve got a big recording studio. They took a song that she had written and produced it up and got her vocals down on a track and put her song together. It was a really good experience for her.
“I was there and her mother was so thankful and she was singing in the studio and they did such an amazing job. Regardless of what happens, she has this profession song that’s been produced and made for her.”
Another experience The Mack Impact helped create was to throw a birthday party for Ruby who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
Another little girl, Alison, simply wanted a guitar of her own. Asher said they received a custom-made guitar donated for Alison.
“We just basically ask the kid ‘what do you want? … what do you want to do?’, and so far we’ve been able to fill what kids want to do,” Asher said.
All these experiences are created to honor Mackenzie’s memory, but Asher said there’s another aspect of the nonprofit that is equally important.
“We provide some structure and opportunity for local middle school kids to give back to the community,” Asher explained. “Once a month on a Saturday, middle school students get together and we find someplace in advance to go and volunteer. Because Mackenzie had a really giving personally, we’re trying to live out her memory and allow these kids a place to go and give back.”
The locations and volunteer announcements are posted on The Mack Impact’s Facebook page.
To volunteer with The Mack Impact, visit http://www.themackimpact.org or call (405) 301-7224.