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Donna White sits peacefully on a bench as she watches young athletes run around the racing track at Lancaster High School.
For White, those runners help keep her son’s memory alive, as they energetically engage in the activity he loved but was too ill to do in the last months of his life.
White’s son, Ryan McKinney, died in February 2006 from Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS). He was 19.
KLS is a rare neurological disorder that may result in altered behavior and a need for excessive sleep.
Since her son’s death, White, a Lancaster resident, has been a major advocate for KLS research and awareness, and has organized a local event in his memory – the Run for Ryan.
The third annual Run for Ryan is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Lancaster High School track field. But this year’s event will be different – it has been organized as an official track meet that will feature the county’s four high schools.
Mark Strickland, Lancaster High’s athletics director, said the Run for Ryan now serves two purposes – supporting KLS and promoting track in Lancaster County.
“I believe we’ll have a big turnout,” Strickland said. “Hopefully, they’ll come out to support KLS and enjoy seeing kids in our county run track.”
Trophies will be awarded to the top two schools. A number of individual accolades will be given out as well.
The day will feature barbecue plates, hot dog lunches for the athletes, face painting, inflatable rides and storytelling for the children.
White said there will be a booth available where people can pick up brochures and pamphlets about KLS.
Local agencies such as Communities in Schools and the Lancaster Fatherhood Project are also expected to set up booths and distribute information, White said.
Though the track meet begins at 10 a.m., the opening ceremony will start an hour later. It will include three special presentations and comments from members of the national KLS Foundation.
White, also a member of the national committee, said there’s no known cause or cure for KLS, but early detection can help save lives.
Since becoming an advocate, White said she’s received a couple of phone calls from parents with children who were diagnosed for KLS. She said being able to help others makes her advocacy work worthwhile.
“That’s the beauty of it,” White said.
“Putting on fundraisers like this does not bring Ryan back, but it can save a life down the road.”
McKinney, who ran track briefly in the 10th grade, graduated from Lancaster High in 2004.
Though he had been ill since 1998, doctors weren’t able to pinpoint his condition until December 2005.
He died about two months later.
White said it took her a while to accept that her son was gone. Now she’s able to celebrate his life and use his memory as an education tool.
“Being an advocate is a way of keeping his spirit alive,” White said. “Watching these kids do something he wanted to do but was too sick to.”
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 283-1152