Whitaker, who wasn’t expected to live past the age of 6, is using her degree to write a series of children’s books with an emphasis on childhood diseases.
The best person to write about a chronic illness often is the one who actually has lived with the disease.
Makenzie Whitaker, who will turn 22 next month, became sick when she was 2 and had a kidney transplant at age 7, so she knows firsthand what it’s like to live with a deadly disease. She graduated May 4 from Florida Gulf Coast University, in Fort Myers — with a degree in English literature with two minors: entrepreneurship and creative writing — and already is putting her college education to good use.
Whitaker has published her first book, “The Kidney Kronicles,” designed to be a seven-book series that covers all the major stages of kidney disease, “from discovering you need a transplant to already preparing for your next one,” she said.
The inaugural publication is “Discovery,” featuring Olive the pig — modeled after Whitaker’s own pet swine. The book was released in March.
Whitaker has been busy promoting her book and attending and speaking at charity events, conferences and Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. On Sunday, she spoke at a National Kidney Foundation Walk in Baldwin Park.
She has begun writing the second kidney book, as well as a book on pediatric diabetes.
“I do my own basic research, (and) I work with actual doctors with Arnold Palmer Hospital and doctors who have written books too,” Whitaker said.
She takes it a step further and reaches out to people who have experience with the chronic illness she’s writing about to make an emotional connection in the books.
Whitaker pitched her book idea in several entrepreneurial competitions, and she has won grant money totaling nearly $30,000 through the Angel Investors program at FGCU and in the Daveler competition at the University of South Florida.
The college graduate has plans to write and publish a whole line of simplified medical books for children.
“My goal is to have a bookshelf full of pediatric chronic illness (books), so that no matter what they have, they can pick a book off the shelf,” Whitaker said.
PAIN LEADS TO PURPOSE
Whitaker’s love of writing began when she had to stay in the hospital for long periods of time after being diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis and Nephrotic Syndrome at age 2.
She had been on peritoneal dialysis for one-and-one-half years when, on her seventh birthday, one of her kidneys was removed. Three months later, the second kidney came out. The following month, she received a kidney from her father, Paul, a lieutenant with the Ocoee Fire Department.
In 2014, her senior year of high school, Whitaker’s body started rejecting the kidney.
Today, Whitaker has about 30% kidney function left and will need a second transplant.
“The original plan was to get me through college because of the high school rejection, because they didn’t think I would get four years out of it,” she said.
She surprised the doctors and has surpassed the four-year mark; however, she is in the second half of stage three. Transplants occur in stage four.
Whitaker must take a number of anti-rejection medications plus twice-a-day iron injections and treatment for hyperparathyroidism. Another transplant is inevitable.
In the meantime, Whitaker will continue writing her books and, she hopes, her memoir. She currently lives in Estero, south of Fort Myers, and works with the university’s entrepreneur program.
Whitaker also is the daughter of Melissa Massa, a West Orange High School graduate who now lives in Tavares.