Santa gives Mackenzie Orth a snow globe. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Mackenzie Orth, an 8 ½-year-old cancer patient who was celebrated with a special Christmas gathering at her Lake Morton-area home in mid-December, died early Sunday morning with her parents, Brittany Henderson and Joe Orth, by her side.

“She is the most beautiful soul in this entire world and we are all completely devastated,” Henderson said in a Sunday afternoon Facebook post, which LkldNow has permission to quote. “She fought this fight harder and with more grace than anyone else could have and we are so incredibly proud of her for everything she has ever done.”

Mackenzie had rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks soft tissue like muscles, tendons and cartilage, and leaves those with it in extreme pain. She was diagnosed in October 2021 after a pain in her leg would not subside.

“We are all having a very, very hard time coping with this,” Henderson wrote. “Even though we knew this was coming, nothing can prepare you for the things we have seen the past few weeks and her actually leaving us.”

Tampa General Hospital chaplain H.L. McConnell and Megan Dice Lewman, owner of The Juice Box, organized a special Christmas parade and gathering held Dec. 14. Lakeland Police Department spokeswoman Robin Tillett and Lt. Joe Parker put on elf hats and organized a few additional things, including Rico, a “magical” horse with sparkly golden hooves, ridden by Shawn Drentwett.

LPD blocked off the road and brought a snow machine and K-9 units, while Lakeland Fire Department brought a truck to deliver a special guest – Santa himself.  Lakeland High School’s Honor Chorus dressed in Victorian costumes and sang Christmas carols, while more than 100 people brought holiday cheer, dressing in holiday costumes and holding signs wishing Mackenzie a merry Christmas.

Chaplain “HL knew how much Mackenzie loves Christmas but hasn’t been feeling well enough to go look at Christmas lights or go to the parade, so he brought Christmas spirit to her,” Henderson wrote following the gathering. “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the massive amount of people who came out today to wish my sweet baby Merry Christmas.”

Santa, who also goes by his undercover name Russ Claridy, left her with a snow globe that day, telling her, “This is from me to remind you of this day. Any time you want to remember our meeting, all you have to do is pick this up and shake it.”

LPD officers gave her a gift basket with stuffed axolotls – a small lizard with which Mackenzie was fascinated — and art supplies.

“She has always been the perfect child. She always thought of everyone before herself, was the funniest, kindest, smartest little human I have and will ever meet,” Henderson wrote. “I pray she is walking, running, dancing and drawing again, with her beautiful blonde hair, no scars and all the axolotls she could ever want.”

Joe Orth lifted his daughter Mackenzie to pet Rico, a ‘magical horse’ ridden by Shawn Drentwett. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips:


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. Rest in Heavenly peace sweet angel, you’ve earned your wings. Fly high. There’s no pain in Heaven only God’s loving arms and His angels.

Leave a comment

Your Thoughts On This? (Comments are moderated; first and last name are required.)