Canyon Country resident Mackenzie Voiles loved playing volleyball and was captain of her cheer team — that is until she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at 13.
“I was all of a sudden having some weird knee pain,” Voiles said. “I was able to continue (playing) through eighth grade, but it eventually got so bad that I had to quit sports altogether, which was a big bummer. My knees were just too swollen and painful to play.”
It wasn’t until a couple of years later that a new doctor discovered she didn’t actually have arthritis, instead diagnosing her with some sort of degenerative cartilage disease.
“We still haven’t figured it out quite yet, but all we know is that it removes most of the cartilage in my knees,” Voiles added, “so I was basically walking bone on bone, and I have severe bruising on the bones in my knees, which is pretty painful.”
Now 18, the last five years have been a whirlwind for Voiles, as she has flown to children’s hospitals across the country with her mother, trying to get an answer to her pain.
“I’ve been to doctors in Seattle, L.A., Austin, and I recently just went to the Mayo Clinic, and no one’s been able to figure out what is wrong with me,” she said.
Over the last four years, Voiles has endured five very painful surgeries, attempting to restore some of the cartilage that had been lost.
“I had to be in a locked-knee brace for four months on each knee, and I missed most of my 11th grade year of high school,” Voiles added.
Unable to bend her knee, Voiles couldn’t do anything herself, relying on family to help her do everything.
“They were so supportive, just getting me whatever I needed, helping me through the good and the bad days because I did have a lot of really rough days where I would see sobbing in pain and my knees would be swollen up like elephant knees,” she said.
Along the way, Voiles was never really able to fully attend school, nor rejoin sports.
“My school didn’t have an elevator when I first started attending it, and all of my classes were upstairs — so I had to stay in the library and either FaceTime into classes or have my work sent to me for most of high school,” she said. “I wasn’t actually able to be present in most of my classes up until this year when the elevator got installed.”
Even so, Voiles had always been an “A” student, and was determined to use her spare time to focus on schoolwork. “I would feel disappointed in myself if I hadn’t used my abilities to do what I could accomplish with them.”
And that hard work paid off when Voiles graduated with honors and 4.8 GPA from Santa Clarita Christian School this year, earning a perfect score on the English portion of her SAT and ACT.
Set to attend Liberty University in the fall with a full academic scholarship, Voiles has found the good in her situation.
“It’s really amazing because I think I might have been a little bit more divided in my efforts for academics and sports if I hadn’t had this knee condition, and I think I potentially would have maybe missed out on one or the other if I had been divided in my attention,” she said.
With five younger sisters, Voiles says she remembers thinking about the possibility of receiving scholarships to college at 8 years old.
“I just knew I have all these younger sisters, and it’d be really helpful getting a full ride,” she added, laughing, “even though I had no clue what that really meant back then.”
Now, Voiles plans to double major in law and criminal justice, with a minor in journalism, in order to become a prosecutor initially, then potentially later become a news anchor.
And, while she has since recovered from her surgeries, the pain has not left. “The cartilage that they implanted is looking healthier than it did, but it didn’t fix the problem.”
“Although her condition was never fully diagnosed and she lives in pain every day, her determination to be a prosecutor is unwavering,” Voiles’ mother Kristi said via email. “We are very proud of her.”
That being said, Voiles credits her family and her faith for getting to where she is now.
“My parents have just been so supportive of me during this time, and my five younger sisters, too, so it’s been really amazing,” she said. “It has just really meant everything to me. I don’t know what I could have done without them.”
Through it all, Voiles said she’s thankful for her journey, good and bad. “It kind of feels like the completion of a really hard time for me, but a time where I’ve really grown in my love for the Lord and my love for family and just in who I am as a person. Even though this time has been really difficult, I’m so thankful for it because I know it’s shaped who I am today.”