The minute that little Makenzie Cadmus was born, everyone in the hospital room reacted the same way: with a gasp.
"I'll never forget the gasps when she was born — the inhale of everyone's breath when they saw that she was missing her skin," her mom, Liz Cadmus, told TODAY. "You could see blood vessels. You could see down to the bone."
Makenzie was born with epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a rare genetic disease that causes the skin to blister and slough off with every single touch. Sometimes referred to as "The Worst Disease You've Never Heard Of," EB can cause severe pain, itching, and infection — so Makenzie's parents knew from the get-go that caring for their daughter and trying to ease her pain would be difficult.
"She is missing both keratin and collagen, and essentially those are like the fibrous glue that holds the layers of skin together," Liz explained. "Learning to take care of Makenzie was a journey — there is no cure for EB, so it's basically wound care. Nurses had to teach us how to take care of her."
After taking her home, Makenzie's parents quickly learned that taking care of their daughter's bandages would be one of their biggest challenges. They'd often fall off, which ended up causing even more damage to her skin.
That's when a nurse suggested what would become a life-saving solution for Makenzie: covering her bandages with socks.
Liz rushed to Walmart to buy a bunch of teeny-tiny pairs of socks, and the family immediately started using them to hold Makenzie's arm and leg bandages in place. The genius trick worked: "As soon as she was able to switch to twice-daily bandage changes instead of bandage changes every few hours, she started to heal," Liz said.
Now a year old, Makenzie continues to wear colorful socks over her bandages every day. Her parents have also created a Facebook page for her called "Rock the Socks," which they use to raise awareness about EB and communicate with other people in the EB community. On Wednesday (Makenzie's birthday!), the family started a social media campaign with the hashtag #RTS1000, encouraging their friends and followers to post photos of themselves "rocking their socks" to raise awareness about EB.
So, what's up next for little Makenzie? Her parents recently learned of an experimental bone marrow transplant that might help relieve some of their daughter's painful symptoms, and they've created a GoFundMe page to help raise money to cover those expenses. Until then, though, Makenzie's parents remain hopeful that she'll continue to grow and thrive: Although some people with EB don't make it past age 30, they know their daughter is a fighter.
"She's amazing. She's so strong," Liz said. "Nothing really stops her... As long as she's bandaged and protected, you wouldn't know she has this horrific disease."