Kinzley inspires local 'shavees' in foundation's fight
Galena toddler helps national organization raise cash in battle against cancer, other conditions that bring hair loss
Sisters Kinzley Schmehl, 20 months, and Kayleigh, 6, pose for a portrait Friday, Feb. 8, at their home in Galena. Kinzley was born with Hurler syndrome and underwent a bone-marrow transplant last summer; Kayleigh was a perfect donor match. Kinzley will represent the St. Baldrick's Foundation in its fundraising drive this year. Buy This Photo
When her baby sister, Kinzley, was born, 6-year-old Kayleigh Schmehl fell in love.
"Kayleigh always got in Kinzley's crib and laid there with her, and she would always say how lucky she was to have her little sister," said mother Stephanie Schmehl. "Now I look at her and say, 'You don't know how lucky your little sister is to have you.'"
Kinzley, who's 20 months old, was born with Hurler syndrome, a rare genetic condition. Last summer, she needed a bone-marrow transplant to save her life. Her older sister wasn't just a perfect match -- she was the only viable donor doctors could find.
To prepare her body for the transplant, Kinzley underwent chemotherapy. During treatment, she lost all her hair.
For Schmehl, who lives in Galena with her family, it was a visual reminder of the challenges her daughter must overcome.
"I remember taking her little comb and brushing it through her hair and seeing it come out in clumps," she said. "It was reality setting in for me, to see everything she was going through."
Kinzley herself was too young to mind going bald. But after a successful bone-marrow transplant, she is a reminder to children undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and other conditions -- and losing their hair in the process -- that recovery is possible.
Now, she's also a poster child for a charity event to cure childhood cancer through the St. Baldrick's Foundation.
In the next six weeks, volunteers are raising money by pledging to have their heads shaved at an event set for St. Patrick's Day, March 16, at Fado Irish Pub, 4022 Townsfair Way in Columbus.
Anyone can sign up to participate by registering at the website stbaldricks.org, then collecting money through small fundraising efforts or soliciting donations from family, friends and local businesses in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick's Day.
This year, organizers will kick off collection season with the Great Guinness Toast event, set from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at Fado. The family-friendly party features live music under a heated outdoor tent.
At the event, the Otterbein University baseball team and the Olentangy Braves Little League team will raise money by shaving their heads one month early to encourage participation.
St. Baldrick's events take place nationwide each spring. In 2012, the organization raised $33.5 million, with all funds going to support research to treat and cure pediatric cancer.
In Columbus alone, about 50 "shavees" raised $32,000 for the cause last year, said local organizer Stacey Brewster.
Traci Shirk, media and public relations specialist for the St. Baldrick's Foundation, said shaving one's head is a powerful way to show support for young cancer patients.
"The kids don't have the choice to lose their hair, so these men and women are stepping up to shave their heads and make a statement," she said.
She added it's a great way to spread awareness about the cause when friends, family members and co-workers ask about it.
Shirk said plenty of brave women have stepped up to participate. So far this year, 2,000 women across the country have registered to shave their heads for the cause, alongside 10,000 men.