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Woman Diagnosed With Rare Genetic Disorder Wonders if Shell Ever Find Love - Then One Man Steps in With the Answer
Deaf Woman With Rare Genetic Disorder Finds True Love in College
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Woman Diagnosed With Rare Genetic Disorder Wonders if Shell Ever Find Love - Then One Man Steps in With the Answer

After a shocking diagnosis in her teens, the future seemed dim for the young woman until she met the man who would change everything.

Teenage volleyball games are supposed to end one of two ways: winning or losing. They aren’t supposed to end with a life-changing diagnosis

McKinnon Galloway was 16 years old when she got hit in the head by a volleyball during a high school game. She had a concussion, so she went to the hospital for a scan.


It was then that healthcare workers found out that she had a number of benign brain tumors -- and a rare genetic disorder called NF2. 

How One Mom Responded to Her Daughter’s Diagnosis

woman with red hair hugging a slightly older woman
Photo by cottonbro studio

McKinnon’s mother Tracy was stunned and scared for her daughter. The disorder, officially called neurofibromatosis type 2, meant that McKinnon would probably lose her hearing, struggle with balance, and suffer from other “life-spoiling” issues caused by tumors damaging essential nerves in the brain.

The disorder only affects 25,000 people worldwide -- making it extremely rare. 

"It can cause deafness, blindness, inability to swallow, affect the ability to walk, balance issues — a lot. These tumors can occur on any nerve in the body, anywhere in the body. And some people have thousands of them. I was devastated."

Doctors guessed that McKinnon would be deaf before graduating high school and that her quality of life would continue to decline. Tracy made a private vow not to let McKinnon’s life be ruined, or even defined, by the diagnosis. 

Why One Woman Thought She Would Never Find Love

Luckily, the doctors were wrong about McKinnon’s hearing. She was able to hear until the end of high school, and through college. There, she had an almost textbook experience including frat parties and late nights studying.

The only thing missing was a romantic life. McKinnon was reserved and afraid to be vulnerable, fearing that opening up about her disorder would make anybody who was interested in her run for the hills. Deep down, she was afraid she would never find love. 

"When you get diagnosed with a chronic illness, one of your first thoughts is, 'I have so much baggage, who is going to ever love me?'" she confessed.

Despite all her worries and reservations, McKinnon accepted when Brandon Kwiatek, a fraternity brother and friend, asked her to be his date to a formal “mountain weekend.” He knew she had had brain surgery, but he didn’t know anything about her diagnosis. Understandably, McKinnon wasn’t rushing to tell him about it.

Eventually, McKinnon did tell Brandon about her health. He researched the condition and came to a heartwarming conclusion -- he wanted to be with McKinnon anyway. 

"If you really, really truly got to know McKinnon, I mean, it's so clear she's a person that's hard not to love," Brandon said.

How One Woman Didn’t Allow Her Life to Slow Down

After college, McKinnon was elected ambassador for the Children's Tumor Foundation, where her mother also served as board president. Through this job, she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to New York City and pursuing meaningful work lobbying for more clinical trials to find a cure for NF2.

When COVID hit in 2020, McKinnon decided to head back home. Even though she had been fighting the odds for many years, her hearing was starting to diminish and she had undergone several brain surgeries. She felt she wanted to be close to home. 

There, Brandon asked her to move in with him. He didn’t feel rushed to get married, but McKinnon wasn’t shy about letting him know what she wanted. 

Soon, McKinnon lost her hearing all together. She was put in a position of having to choose between mobility in her face and her hearing and she chose her face. She underwent yet another surgery and woke up deaf. She and Brandon learned and practiced sign language together.

How a Diagnosis Didn’t Stop One Couple From Being Together

Unbeknownst to McKinnon, Brandon took her mother Tracy out for dinner and asked for her daughter’s hand in marriage. Tracy agreed excitedly, but warned that their life together wouldn’t be easy.

"You understand, this is not going to be the normal journey that couples have, and it's going to have some difficult times, but you'll be having some really fulfilling times. You will learn things that other people will never have the opportunity to learn about real love," Tracy told Brandon. 

On January 1st, one year after McKinnon lost her hearing, Brandon proposed. 

"We just went through so much last year, and we really wanted to start off the new year on a very positive note," McKinnon recalls about the trip.

"When I came out [of the shower] and felt the rose petals under my toes, it put a smile on my face, because Brandon always does nice things, and I just thought it was one of his nice things. But my favorite part," she continues, "was when I looked up from the rose petals, and saw him standing there with a sign language shirt on that said 'love.' And he had gotten this wooden rose petal, and it said, 'Will you marry me?' on it, just to make sure I understood. And he got down on one knee."

McKinnon and Brandon’s love story is beautiful and its message is simple: everyone deserves love. No matter the diagnosis, there is someone out there for everyone. 

Never let your limitations define you, that is the message McKinnon wants everybody to understand -- and it’s one she learned from her mom. "I hope my perspective on life gives others a chance to see that anything is possible. [My mom] has never once made me feel that my dreams are not possible because of my illness," McKinnon said.

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