A horse for healing in Hudson
But unlike most girls her age, McKenzie, 11, faces challenges no child should ever have to face. In early November, the shy, dark-haired fifth-grader began complaining of headaches and double vision. By Thanksgiving, the family learned McKenzie was suffering from a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer known as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG.
While McKenzie's tumor is inoperable, she's responding well to treatment at Boston Children's Hospital, according to her grandfather, Frank LaFountain.
McKenzie, the daughter of Ron and Dianne Lowe, recently completed a round of radiation treatments and is currently on an experimental regime of chemotherapy-like medications.
"She's done fantastically these past several weeks," he said. "They said she has a 2 percent chance to recover. She's part of that 2 percent. I can feel it."
Despite her diagnosis, McKenzie has found reason to smile again. Last month, fate, along with some caring strangers, brought together the Hudson preteen and an unwanted, 15-year-old quarter horse pulled from a Pennsylvania kill pen.
Kim Frenette had never met McKenzie or her family, but like many in the close-knit community, she was deeply touched by the girl's story. The owner of Whispering Brook Farm, a local business specializing in horse-drawn carriage rides, Frenette promptly offered up a carriage ride upon learning McKenzie was a lifelong horse lover.
"I met with the family and just knew I had to do something," said Frenette.
During a chat with LaFountain, she learned the family planned on getting McKenzie a puppy. The girl's response was, "but I really want a horse."
"I drove away in tears," Frenette said, knowing McKenzie's family home wasn't equipped for large animals. Frenette wasn't easily discouraged. After doing some online research, she learned about Another Chance For Horses, a rescue organization that places horses bound for slaughter into loving homes.
"The wheels started to turn," said Frenette, who immediately embarked on a fundraising mission to find and rescue the perfect horse for McKenzie . and bring it to Hudson. Much like McKenzie, the shaggy brown and white horse known only as No. 289 had an uncertain future.
"She was brought up to auction on an open stock trailer," said Frenette, who traveled to Pennsylvania to retrieve the horse. "It was a rainy and miserable day, and the horse had worms and bronchitis."
Despite her bedraggled appearance, the glimmer in No. 289's eye touched Frenette's heart. Narrowly escaping death, the horse was quarantined for several weeks at Frenette's farm and treated for various ailments. Knowing McKenzie would need an indoor arena to ride in during bouts of cold weather, Luann and Bob Bowen, owners of Wait And See Farm in Hudson, offered to board the animal free of charge.
By Christmas week, the horse that would later be called Star was ready to meet her ecstatic new owner.
During a fundraiser for McKenzie at the Hudson VFW, LaFountain handed his granddaughter a rope leading to the outside parking lot.
"I told her to follow the rope, her Christmas gift was at the other end," LaFountain said.
The unlikely pair has since formed an unbreakable bond, with McKenzie and her family spending much of their spare time at the Bowens' farm.
During a recent visit, Star snorted happily and pawed at the ground as McKenzie approached with a treat, nuzzling her shoulder when she brushed his shaggy, white mane.
With a helping hand from Frenette and her 7-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, McKenzie laid the purple - her favorite color - saddle blanket on Star's back and placed herself in the saddle.
Within moments, the happy pair bounded across the arena, seemingly without a care in the world.
"It's amazing what happens when a community comes together," LaFountain said.
A fundraiser for McKenzie and her family is scheduled for Feb. 16 at the Lowell, Mass., Elks Lodge at 6 p.m. The evening will feature live music by Ayla Brown, dancing, raffles and a cash bar.
Tickets are $10 per person.
For more information, visit the Friends of McKenzie Lowe fundraising page or the Benefit for McKenzie Lowe page on Facebook.
Dodgeball returns to Windham schools
Congo war's legacy follows survivor to NH