Life has thrown some tough challenges at Kayla White, but the 13-year old’s determination and spirit have seen her fight to live the life she wants. Her bravery was awarded when she received the Cody Forbes Award for Courage at the 2023 national Respiratory Achievers’ Awards.
The award ceremony held in Wellington, fell on Kayla 13th birthday; a milestone that doctor’s thought she was unlikely to reach. “She’s always been a fighter. From the very earliest days after she was born, she had such a strong will to live,” her mum Angela recalls.
Kayla was born with hydrops fetalis, a serious condition with a low survival rate and the cause of permanent damage to her lungs. She has 70% lung function and a range of respiratory conditions that make breathing very difficult. She was told by doctors at a young age that she wouldn’t be able to do anything physical.
“When Kayla is told she can’t do something, she will go out of her way to prove them wrong. She has absolutely defied those predictions,” Angela says. Kayla is involved in a semi-competitive cheerleading team, a marching team, Girl Guides, her school’s Kapa Haka team and choir. She runs in the cross country every year, takes part in competitive swimming and was in her school’s competitive Maths team. With her marching team she competed at a national competition.
“She will always give it a go, even if she is slower than everyone else or needs to run the cross country with her inhaler in her hand. She gets breathless but her pure determination gets her through,” says Angela.
Both Kayla and Ange admit there have been some very hard times. “She has been in hospital too many times to count and up to Starship numerous times. It’s hard on her. She had to miss a lot of school during COVID-19, because it was just too risky to go,” explains Angela.
Kayla is humble about her attitude and achievements. “It’s just normal to me. I want to do those things, so I keep going,” she explains. She has just started Nayland College in Nelson where she has signed up to an Outdoor Education course involving kayaking, mountain climbing and other outdoor adventures. Angela says this is typical of her daughter to choose the adventurous option. She is immensely proud of Kayla’s courage and willingness to give things a go. “She wasn’t meant to live, but she loves life and while others are sitting on the sidelines, she’s out there doing it.”