After receiving life-changing health news at 16, McKinnon Galloway, now 29, is an advocate for others suffering from the same chronic illness, and she's got the love of her life beside her all the way!
It was 13 years ago when McKinnon was struck by a ball during a high school volleyball game. McKinnon experienced concussion symptoms and went to the ER, and doctors followed up with a routine MRI. But they learned something unexpected. McKinnon had two tumors in her brain, and those tumors led to a diagnosis of NF2, a rare genetic disorder.
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McKinnon's mother, Tracy Galloway, immediately began researching NF2 (or neurofibromatosis type 2), fearful of what the diagnosis might mean for her daughter's future. The Children's Tumor Foundation reports that NF2 affects 1 in 25,000 people worldwide. The condition is chronic, and while the tumors are benign, they often damage nerves connected with balance and hearing.
Tracy shared with People, "It can cause deafness, blindness, inability to swallow, affect the ability to walk, balance issues - a lot. These tumors can occur on any nerve in the body, anywhere in the body. And some people have thousands of them. I was devastated."
An Uncertain Future For McKinnon Galloway
While Tracy was concerned about the physical challenges her daughter would face, McKinnon worried she wouldn't find anyone who'd love her through the difficulties she'd face. McKinnon thought, "‘My life is so complicated. Who would see me for me?'"
Though doctors predicted that McKinnon Galloway might lose her hearing before graduating, she did not. And following graduation, she enrolled at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. It was there that she met the man that would become The One!
Brandon Kwiatek and McKinnon Galloway met through Brandon's fraternity. She'd been the fraternity's "sweetheart," and he the group's treasurer. Though initially nervous about McKinnon's diagnosis, Brandon forged a two-year friendship with her and eventually asked her on a date-the fraternity's formal "mountain weekend."
Brandon quickly realized what a special person McKinnon is, saying, "If you really, really truly got to know McKinnon, I mean, it’s so clear she’s a person that’s hard not to love."
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Around the same time, McKinnon became the elected ambassador for the Children's Tumor Foundation. McKinnon was thrilled to move to Manhattan and become a lobbyist, pushing for more clinical trials in an effort to find a cure for NF2.
Inspiring Others With Her Story
Just as McKinnon Galloway had impressed Brandon, she amazed Annette Bakker, President of CTF. Ms. Bakker stated that the ambassador role inspires others who, "despite all their challenges, are actually having the courage to move on and to be an inspiration, often for the younger generation, and also sometimes for families that just have their child diagnosed with NF."
McKinnon did all of those things!
Back in 2018, when McKinnon was introduced as CTF's Ambassador, she shared openly about the feelings of "shame," "depression," and "self-consciousness" she'd felt over the years. Often McKinnon hid her feelings of despair behind a big smile and a brave face, determined not to burden or inconvenience others.
In 2020, McKinnon Galloway returned home to North Carolina. McKinnon had lost hearing in her right ear and had a considerable loss in her left. She wanted to make as many audible memories with Tracy, Brandon, and loved ones as possible. Once home, she and Brandon moved in together.
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Though Brandon loved McKinnon, he felt no rush to marry. However, McKinnon was ready to be Mrs. Kwiatek!
Wedding Bells For McKinnon Galloway
Soon ready, Brandon asked Tracy if he could propose. Tracy warned Brandon that their journey would be more difficult than most, but she gave him the wedding ring she'd worn before McKinnon's father died in 2018. Brandon would use the ring to create a custom one for his bride, knowing the love they'd share would be unique as well!
In December 2021, McKinnon Galloway woke up with no hearing. Steroids restored her hearing briefly, but she lost her hearing permanently when she had surgery to remove the tumor and correct facial paralysis. During 2022, McKinnon had two brain surgeries, making four in total.
Dr. Jaishri Blakeley, McKinnon's doctor, predicts McKinnon will live a long life. She's made tough decisions and sacrifices in order to protect those years. Regarding her state of mind, Dr. Blakeley says, "In spirit and resilience, she’s doing amazing."
Hoping to start 2023 on a positive note, the sweethearts traveled to Las Vegas. After waiting for the right time and allowing McKinnon time to recover, Brandon was finally able to make his move.
Facing Life’s Challenges With ‘The One’
On January 1, 2023, as they prepared for an evening at Cirque du Soleil, Brandon used rose petals he'd packed to create a heart shape on the bed. The two had been learning to sign, so Brandon wore a shirt that spelled out "love" in sign language and, down on one knee, presented McKinnon with a wooden rose petal inscribed with the words "will you marry me." "It was perfect," said McKinnon. "I said yes before I even saw the ring."
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A wedding date hasn't been set, but it will be in Costa Rica, where Brandon lived as a child. Brandon and McKinnon know that biological children may have NF2, but they also know there are many ways to build a family. They know they are committed to one another through whatever lies ahead!
And McKinnon knows she's found the man she wasn't sure was out there. "He’s the one who showed me that I deserved to be loved."
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"Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." 1 Corinthians 13:7
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Featured Image Credit: Facebook/Tracy Tulloh Galloway