Local Girl Battling Leukemia Reaches For The Stars

By: Jennifer Hoffman

When she grows up, she wants to be an astronaut. But first, she has to beat cancer. 

“On February 6, 2019, Maddie was diagnosed with Very High Risk B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)” said her dad, Kevin. 

Maddie O’Keefe, a 9 year old little girl from Berwyn, PA isn’t letting a cancer diagnosis stand in the way of accomplishing her dreams. 

The 4th grader at St. Patrick’s school in Malvern enjoys playing the piano, loves math, science and watching the moon and stars at night. But as of late, she’s traded in her late night stargazing for rounds of chemotherapy. 

For the last seven months, Maddie has undergone numerous and vigorous rounds of chemotherapy at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She had to learn how to walk again and had daily visits with Occupational and Physical Therapists. 

Despite missing multiple days of school, and not being able to be a normal kid all of the time, Maddie’s outlook on her situation is extremely positive. “She continues to battle, I don’t know where she gets the strength from” remarked Kevin. 

Maddie and her dad Kevin have a personal connection to HEADstrong, as Kevin’s cousin Jeff Baxter is the Director of Fundraising for the foundation. Maddie will also be the beneficiary at the University City Women’s Lacrosse Classic on October 20th at UPenn. 

Maddie and Kevin had the opportunity to visit Headstrong in December 2017, visiting Jeff, and delivering a donation to Jeff in honor of his mom (Aunt Gail). Kevin and Maddie have designed t-shirts over the last 4 years, where proceeds have been directed to families and children in need, due to a Childhood Illness. Ronald McDonald House is a primary  recipient of their efforts. This fall a new design will be launched, with proceeds going directly to CHOP Oncology Unit.

CHOP’s oncology unit has been a great support system for Maddie and her parents, as the entire team from nurses, therapists and techs adore her outlook on what she’s going through. She is in phase 4 of 5 of intense chemo and if all goes as planned, she should be done by December and can start her two year maintenance program.

A family friend heard about Maddie’s dream of becoming an astronaut and reached out to their nephew who works at Boeing Space Coast in Florida.  He was moved by Maddie’s story and her strength. He asked her if she could give him some memorabilia so Maddie sent down her favorite toy, her beenie boo named Mel. ‘Mel’ will be on the spacecraft that will be launched 416,000 miles into space this fall. Maddie might not be able to fly into space just yet, but a little piece of her is and when ‘Mel’ gets home he can tell her all about it. 

For only being 9 years old Maddie has handled her cancer diagnosis with great maturity. Throughout her fight, Maddie has always had a hand to hold and someone to cheer her on, whether it’s at home with her Mom Jennifer and Nana Kendall or her school community at St. Patrick’s. “The support has been amazing, it’s almost overwhelming at times” Kevin said. 

Maddie owes her strength to her parents, “ I stay strong for the people around me, for my Mom, Dad and Nana” she said.