Michigan student with rare genetic disease named homecoming queen

(Provided Photo/WOOD-TV)

JENISON, Mich. (WOOD) — A group of teens in Jenison Michigan are trying to get national attention for their friend who was elected homecoming queen and also has a rare genetic disorder.

Kate Veldink is a senior at Jenison High School. She has been in the district her entire school career and has kept many of the same friends since kindergarten.

She also has a rare genetic disease called ataxia-telangiectasia, which her mom described as the worst symptoms of cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis rolled into one.

She was elected homecoming queen last week, which she said was a surprise.

“I was so honored,” Kate said. “It brought tears to my eyes when I saw everyone [in the stands] stand up.”

Thursday, her friends gathered around her and told WOOD-TV that “no way” were they surprised because for them there was no other choice

“She just lights up the room,” friend Ana Hoezee said.

“If anyone deserved it, it was her,” friend Mikaela Visser said. “She works very hard every single day and she doesn’t get recognized enough for it.”

“The school loves Kate, and I think that we all just recognize what a great person she is,” Maddy Maurice, who has been friends with Kate since kindergarten, said.

“She looks at everyone with a smile, she comes to school and just shows kindness and compassion to other people,” friend and Homecoming King Jacob Helm said. “Everyone knows Kate, everyone loves Kate, and to see her walk out there to pick accept the crown was awesome.”

Many of her friends met Kate in elementary school, when she was a lot different. A-T is progressive, meaning that from birth to about age 13, Kate kept getting worse.

“It has been hard I think for all of us to watch my girls get worse,” Mary Veldink, Kate’s mom, said. “To go from walking to a walker, to a scooter to a wheelchair. From writing to not being able to write at all, from plain speech to slurred speech. So this community has watched that. They have grieved with us, but yet they’re celebrating with us, too.”

Mary Veldink credits the community — Kate’s group of friends in particular — with supporting her daughter her entire life.

She said the community helped Kate be a kid, a teen, a homecoming queen and now a hashtag on Twitter: #KateVeldinkonEllen. The goal of the hashtag is to urge “The Ellen Show” to invite Kate to be a guest.

“I would be proud of Kate even if she wasn’t crowned queen and didn’t become Twitter famous overnight,” Visser said. “I’m proud of Jenison as well that we’re kind of rallying behind her and hopefully getting her on Ellen.”

Kate plans to go to Hope College next year and study early childhood education.

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