Kisses For Kayla, or “Kisses4Kayla,” is a well-known slogan among freshmen at Walt Whitman High School. The saying is dedicated to Kayla Wenger, a cousin of ninth grader Justin Pollack.
In first grade, Kayla was continuously sick. Her parents took her to the doctor, who diagnosed her with a rare, incurable type of brain tumor known as ependymoma. After many surgeries attempting to remove the tumor, one side of Kayla’s face was paralyzed and Kayla lost her ability to walk. But even though she had physical limitations, she paired up with a girls college basketball team, becoming an honorary member and fostering close friendships with each teammate. Despite chemotherapy, after five years of treatment the tumor spread to her spine. Fevers persisted and she was eventually taken back to the hospital for radiation. Before she passed away, she fell into a coma, going peacefully after her long fight.
Justin said that because of Kayla “my family has stayed close, appreciating each other’s company more and more.” One of Kayla’s close friends, Rachel Hazan, expressed Kayla as “determined and persistent. She would never give up on what she wanted, even if that meant overcoming obstacles. She taught me to do the same.” Keeping Kayla in their thoughts, family and friends created the team “Kisses4Kayla” for the Race for Hope, a 5k run to raise money to fight brain tumors. Many students were involved, supporting the cause by wearing t-shirts, bracelets, and temporary tattoos, all designed by Kayla’s elementary school helper. The 2013 race raised $121,128.07, and this year’s Race for Hope is scheduled for May 4. Kayla’s story still lives on in the hearts of many students at Whitman.
Article by Sophia Knappertz, MoCo Student staff writer