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Maelin-Kate Carlson, at center, has persevered through adversity with her health and living situation to have her story told on NBC’s “Today” morning show. Maelin-Kate is surrounded by her brothers -- Logan, Drew, Parker and Sawyer. CONTRIBUTED

Heritage student Maelin-Kate Carlson relates her adoption, transplant on ‘Today’

MADISON – Young Maelin-Kate Carlson, a first grader at Heritage Elementary School, told her hopeful story on NBC’s “Today” on Nov. 24, 2021.

She was adopted in August 2017 with Lifeline Children’s Services, an adoption agency in Birmingham that facilitates domestic and foreign adoptions. “I’ve always felt called to adopt ever since I was really young. It took a little more convincing to get Paul on board,” Megan Carlson said.

“In late 2015, we both felt the call and began the process to adopt from China. We were drawn to China because all adoptions are considered special needs,” Megan said. “We knew we could really make a difference in a child’s life with medical needs. We have great insurance and medical facilities here; it felt like the right choice for us.”

With the adoption, Maelin-Kate gained four brothers: Logan, 19, Calhoun Community College; Drew, 17, junior at James Clemens High School; Parker, 13, eighth-grader at Liberty Middle School; and Sawyer, 11, fifth-grader at Heritage.

The Carlson boys “had different reactions when we told them we would be adopting. Some were excited, others nervous. It’s all very understandable,” Megan said. “They all knew what a difference our family could make in a life of child, so they were all supportive.”

“Amazingly, they all took to Maelin-Kate immediately. She had a special way of connecting to each one. They have loved and adored her since day 1,” Megan said.

“We were told Maelin had hip dysplasia soon after we brought her home,” Megan said. The Carlsons scheduled a series of hip surgeries. Before the first surgery, they took Maelin-Kate for pre-surgery labs, which revealed abnormalities.

Their pediatrician scheduled an appointment at the local clinic for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Their doctor at St. Jude couldn’t explain Maelin-Kate’s labs because of limited medical history and no family details.

“By the grace of God, the other doctor at the clinic had worked in Minnesota in the Fanconi Anemia Clinic. She spotted the signs in Maelin right away and ordered the correct test for diagnosis. It’s an extremely rare genetic blood disease most doctors haven’t heard of, so we’re extremely blessed to cross paths with this particular doctor,” Megan said.

Although matching was doubtful, a donor did agree, and Maelin-Kate’s transplant was successful.

Two weeks later, Maelin-Kate was meeting with doctors at St Jude in Memphis. Because of impending bone marrow failure, Maelin-Kate needed a bone marrow transplant. For more than a year, the Carlsons held donor drives for a bone marrow transplant for Mae.

“We were finally able to find a donor. St. Jude did their first Fanconi Anemia transplant on Mae in March 2019,” Megan said.

“Unfortunately, her disease carries the risk of certain types of cancers,” Megan said. “She’s healthy and happy right now. We hope and pray that will continue into her future.”

The Carlsons applied to Make-A-Wish and first requested a Disney cruise. However, COVID-19 squashed that dream. Maelin-Kate changed her Make-A-Wish request to a Goldendoodle puppy.

Maelin-Kate embraces school, after missing preschool years. “She loves learning and playing with her friends. Her teacher is amazing and embraces Mae’s whole story,” Megan said. “They’ve learned about Chinese traditions, and Mae has shared about her adoption.”

“Maelin loves to play with dolls and craft. She’s quite the little artist. She takes dance and piano lessons. She wants to learn the violin next,” Megan said.

Megan works as a preschool teacher at Asbury Weekday. Paul retired from the military and now works as a civilian for Redstone Arsenal.

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