Students, Santa give surprise gift to girl fighting deadly disease

BONNER SPRINGS, Kan. - On Tuesday night a high school basketball game became the unlikely venue for a gift that would change the lives of a family battling a rare illness.

Jessica Masoner suffered an epileptic seizure at 15, the first sign of the onset of Lefora disease, which by the time she turned 18 left a once lively, healthy girl bed-ridden and unable to take care of herself.

The disease has no cure and life expectancy for those diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder are typically less than a decade.

Masoner's mother quit her job and the family's life began to revolve around caring for the oldest sibling in the family. Sheri Boatright told 41 Action News on Tuesday the family had been saving for three years to buy a handicapped-accessible van to make moving Jessica around a more manageable task.

"It would be huge," Boatright said, "Because it would make things so much easier for us, and so much better for her."

Earlier this fall, Jennifer Schlicht, a social studies teacher at Bonner Springs High School-- a 30 minute drive from Jessica's home in Roeland Park-- took up the cause after conversations with her neighbor, Jessica's aunt.

"I brought it to the student council and said ‘Hey want to have a bowling fundraiser? Do you guys want to help us with this?' And then it just blew up from there," Schlicht said.

For weeks, students at Bonner Springs and its rival Basehor Linwood held bake sales and sold t-shirts; anything to raise a few dollars.

At Tuesday night's basketball game, the two student bodies planned to present the family with a check when a surprise visitor dropped in instead.

At halftime, Surrounded by armed law enforcement, Kansas City's Secret Santa entered. The anonymous giver-of-gifts best known for handing out $100 bills during the holidays had a bigger present to deliver.

Outside the arena, the van outfitted with a wheelchair ramp and paid for by the students and Secret Santa's combined efforts waited.

Boatright was floored.

"I thought Santa was here to give the kids some gifts or something," she said. "I told you I was going to get her a car for Christmas but I thought it would be a late Christmas."

Christmas had come early.

For more information about Lafora disease and Jessica's journey, visit

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