Kayla West’s cousins have mitochondrial disease. “I helped them feel like normal kids,” she said. “That’s what they wanted.”
Kayla spent two years helping to take care of her cousins before her family moved from Washington to Texas. She would make sure they didn’t get too hot; she hooked them up to their heart monitors, oxygen, and feeding tubes before bed; she played with them; and she carried them if they needed it. “They became a huge part of my life,” she said.
When Kayla entered the pageant circuit in Texas and learned she needed a platform, “I knew right away it would be mitochondrial disease.”
The 16-year-old daughter of Trisha and Timothy Stutz, who is the reigning Young Miss Copperas Cove Rabbit Fest, is raising awareness about mitochondrial disease through her pageant platform:
“Mitochondrial disease is an inherited chronic illness that affects the way the major body organs function. I witnessed this firsthand with my 5- and 8-year-old cousins when I used to help take care of them and put them to bed and hook them up to their heart monitors, oxygen and feeding tubes. But that’s not the worst part. Statistically, only one of them shall live to the age of 10 and the one who lives to the age of 10 shouldn’t live past his teenage years. So, I want to raise awareness and much needed funds to, someday, hopefully find a cure.”
As part of her title, Kayla, who lives in Copperas Cove, TX, is required to do a community service project on behalf of a charity. Her event, the Krist Kindl Pageant in December, benefited MitoAction. The 45 participants in the pageant got a packet of information about mitochondrial disease and a green Mito ribbon and Kayla told the audience about it. She even wore a Mito green gown to the event!
The Krist Kindl pageant saw a 38 percent increase in participation over last year, said Wendy Sledd, director of the Copperas Cove Rabbit Fest Pageant. She credits that to Kayla’s hard work in marketing the pageant to everyone she knew.
“We are excited to have so many contestants to help in the fight against mitochondrial disease,” Kayla said.
Through Kayla’s hard work, MitoAction received a generous donation of $1,562.42!
Wendy, a military spouse, didn’t know what Mito was. “Kayla gave me an education. Her passion comes through. She does so much to educate others.”
Kayla talked with her aunt about Mito and did research on the MitoAction website to prepare the platform speech she gives.
Trisha praised the strength of the boys’ mother. “She’s the strongest woman I know,” she said. “She doesn’t think she’s doing anything out of the ordinary.”
The boys’ family is grateful that Kayla is raising awareness about mitochondrial disease. And Kayla’s parents couldn’t be more proud. “It’s amazing to see the person she’s becoming. She’s really inspiring.”
Organizing a pageant is a lot of work … and Kayla was doing that in addition to attending high school (she’s a junior), taking college courses, being a member of the choir, the Rowdy Roos (a cheerleading/spirit club), and the FFA, working, and fulfilling pageant commitments every weekend!
Plus, an ice storm forced the festivities indoors the day before the pageant so Kayla had to scramble to find a new location in hours.
“It’s a lot to juggle,” said Wendy. “Kayla did a fantastic job with it. She was rockin’ it in high heels.”
Said Kayla: “The more people who know about mitochondrial disease, maybe more children will no longer go undiagnosed and can get the medical treatment they need.”