What do you do when you are immersed in pain with the slightest touch or breeze? How do you cope when the people around you seem apathetic because they don’t understand the reason you’re crying since you seem to be perfectly healthy from the outside? Mackenzie has been through all that. She was bullied in school, a teacher failed her for refusing to dress up for their P.E. class, her classmates thought she was nuts. It came to a point when her parents decided to pull her out of school and continue her studies from home.
Just looking at Mackenzie, no one would think she has a disability. She always has a ready smile and tries to be as normal as possible. But behind that “happy” disposition are episodes of pain and discomfort. There’s no hope of ever getting her illness cured. So, rather than sulk, she channels her energy into something worthwhile. She collects books and distributes them to homeless shelters, hoping that bibliotherapy can also do wonders to abused and neglected children. Aside from providing them books, this soft-spoken teenager also wrote a booklet to guide parents in making reading with their kids part of their bonding moments. She also provides the shelters she gives books to with guidelines how to ignite the kids’ interest in reading.
Mackenzie Bearup was born a normal kid. She is BethAnn’s firstborn. Like kids of her age, she was physically active and outgoing. Mackenzie was a perfectly healthy girl. Until that February 8, 2004 incident when life took a sudden turn for her. While jumping on the bed, dancing to American Idol, she suddenly felt a sharp pain on her left knee.
She was unable to walk after that. Her knee was swollen and it took putting it in a cast to stop the inflammation. They went from one doctor to another in their quest to determine what was really wrong with her and why the pain was not abating. After two months, they finally found the answer and a doctor was able to name her condition.
Living with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Mackenzie was told that she has a very rare disorder called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. The reason she is still feeling the pain is due to the nerves sending messages to the brain that the injury is still there regardless of it already totally healed.
She spent the next nine months in therapy before she was able to walk again. But it was never the same for Mackenzie. Unlike before, having Complex Regional Pain Syndrome made simple tasks like walking difficult for her. The therapy sessions that are done every other month last up to three days, with each five hours long.
It would have been a lot easier if people around her understood her condition. But since she looked just perfectly fine, her classmates and some of her teachers thought she was making it all up. If Mackenzie would describe the pain:
"On the McGill Pain Scale, RSD is rated higher than childbirth, cancer pain, and it’s just above getting a finger amputated with no pain medicine. Some days I can’t walk or leave my bed." (SOURCE: Girls Health)
So what does this mean for her? It means that she sometimes went without sleeping because of the pain. She could not socialize and mingle with the crowd because the slightest vibration and touch would send her cringing in pain. She also had to manage staying indoors during winter because the cold is her worst enemy. The pain limited her activities, all right, but it did very little to contain her spirit.
Founding Sheltering Books
As she battled with her disorder, she found inspiration in her grandfather. Morris Clark was a double amputee who suffered from arthritis. Yet he took care of his wife who has multiple sclerosis and even ran his own restaurant. Mackenzie never heard the old man complain. It gave Mackenzie a reason to be brave and face her challenges head on.
Reading kept her mind off the pain whenever she underwent therapy. The characters in her books become so real to her that she often get lost in their world, forgetting her pain. When she told her doctor that she read books as a means of distraction, the doctor asked what she did with her old books. According to the doctor, there was this shelter for abused kids called Murphy-Harpst Children's Center in Cedartown. They built a library but they had no books. The doctor suggested that she might want to donate her books to the library to share the joy of reading to emotionally neglected kids.
Mackenzie could not be any happier to help. She contacted her friends and collected books from around the neighborhood. She was aiming to collect 300 books to donate to the children’s center. To spread the word, she made flyers and even posted an ad. Soon, books came pouring in. When the center was filled beyond its capacity, they told Mackenzie to start looking for places where she could donate the ongoing deluge of books she was receiving.
So, her non-profit organization Sheltering Books was born. Her two younger brothers, Alex and Benjamin, helped her sort the books according to age, gender, and genre. If she could, she would always deliver the books herself. Seeing the smiles of the kids and receiving their thanks never fail to make Mackenzie recharged and ready to do more.
So far, she has received 90,000 books and had donated to many different shelters. Knowing how powerful the influence of books can be, she wrote pamphlets to help shelter staff inspire kids to read. She also encouraged reading stories as a family bonding and wrote ideas how to make it fun for mothers and children in homeless shelters.
Mackenzie is far from done. This girl may be ailing physically but her spirit is undoubtedly healthy. She is just getting started:
"I really want to reach a goal of distributing one million books although I must admit that even that isn't enough. According to statistics there's 1.35 million homeless children every night. I want to be able to supply books to all those children." (SOURCE: Examiner)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Murphy-Harpst Children's Center in Cedartown
- Sheltering Books
Awards and Achievements
- 2009: Founded Sheltering Books
- 2010: Named one of CNN Heroes
- Included in NBC Nightly News Making a Difference
- Named Daily Points of Light Winner
- Named Hands on America- Scholastic Books Be Big in Your Community winner
- Named Atlanta 20 Under 20 honoree
- Named Bank of America Local Hero
- She maintained a 4.0 GPA in gifted and talented classes
- Included in Examiner.com's America Inspired finalist
- Named Huffington Post Greatest Person of the Day
- Received Prudential Spirit of the Community Award
- Recognized on P. Diddy's blog as a hero
CNN (Teen turns escape from pain into charity)
The Huffington Post (HuffPost's Greatest Person Of The Day: Mackenzie Bearup, Georgia Teen Who Donates Thousands Of Books To Children In Need)
The Huffington Post (CNN Hero's Sheltering Books: Reading Is The Best Medicine?)
Very Best In Youth (Mackenzie Bearup)
Examiner (Q&A with America Inspired finalist Mackenzie Bearup)
Examiner (Atlanta teen uses books to heal homeless children)
Shine Global (Mackenzie Bearup)
Free Play Life (An Interview With Mackenzie Bearup)
BookFare (Toastworthy Teens - Mackenzie Bearup)
Google Books (Unconditional Love: Radical Stories, Real People)
Inspired Gift Giving (Reading Through the Pain: Mackenzie Bearup)
Girls Health (Mackenzie Bearup)