"Mighty Mare" is winning her toughest battle

By Reiko Gallo '18 on April 23, 2018

Delta Phi Epsilon paid tribute to sophomore Mariana McConnie, who underwent a second double lung transplant due to cystic fibrosis

The sisters of Delta Phi Epsilon during 2018 Greek Sing.
The sisters of Delta Phi Epsilon during 2018 Greek Sing.

Following two double lung transplants in four years, Mariana McConnie is winning her fight against cystic fibrosis. McConnie, a Towson University sophomore majoring in deaf studies, is on medical leave from her academic requirements following the transplant she underwent after catching a cold at the end of the spring 2017 semester.

As she battled with her condition throughout the summer, in and out of hospitals, McConnie stayed active in her on-campus sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon. She had just joined the sorority that spring, but the relationships she quickly formed laid the foundation for the support she would need as she prepared for her second transplant.

After fighting her way onto the waitlist, McConnie eventually got her transplant on March 13. But that has not stopped the James Hubert Blake High School graduate from attending every Delta Phi Epsilon event she can. On April 4, only 22 days after her major surgery, McConnie was back on campus to meet Delta Phi Epsilon’s newest class. Exactly one month after the surgery, she attended a four-hour-long gala. 

Last week, on April 19, McConnie watched TU’s Greek Sing via FaceTime from her home in Silver Spring, Maryland, and saw her sisters perform onstage at SECU Arena. She had no idea about the surprise they’d planned for her that night.

Greek Sing is perhaps the most anticipated event of Greek Week. It’s an annual singing and dancing competition that each on-campus Greek organization may take part in to showcase their chapter in an entertaining way. The theme of this year’s event was superheroes. Organizations chose themes like Ninja Turtles, Fantastic Four, Superman and The Incredibles.

But Delta Phi Epsilon had a different idea of “superhero” in mind.

As Delta Phi Epsilon took the stage last Thursday night, “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé filled the arena, followed by a variety of feminist anthems as members of the sorority danced proudly. Voiceovers cut through the music to announce their support and commitment to their philanthropic partners, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

“Cystic fibrosis research is not currently government funded, so we as Delta Phi Epsilon are proud to be a No. 1 supporter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation,” the voiceover echoed.

As the dance neared its end, the sisters walked out on stage, each raising a poster board to spell out “MIGHTY MARE.” Members of the audience immediately stood to applaud and continued until each dancer reached her seat.

“We dedicate this to our sister Mariana,” echoed the voice through the arena. “Mighty Mare is OUR superhero.”

McConnie’s big, Kayla Hester, helped craft the idea for “Mighty Mare” in October 2017 after the sisters learned McConnie needed new lungs. “Mighty Mare” began as a hashtag on social media and quickly took off online and through fundraising efforts by the sorority as McConnie battled cystic fibrosis.

McConnie and Hester’s relationship hit the ground running the moment they met. Hester said she fought hard for McConnie to be her little after she joined. The bond the sisters have formed with Mariana extend to relationships with her parents and beyond. Hester recalls days and evenings when she and other sisters would make the trip to Johns Hopkins Hospital to visit and laugh with McConnie.

When asked to describe McConnie, Hester offered an emotional response. “Mariana is the coolest and most headstrong person I’ve ever met. She is constantly picking up not only herself but others.”

She tells a story of a particular visit to Johns Hopkins with a friend who had gone through a recent relationship breakup. As McConnie sat on the hospital bed, she insisted on asking questions about what he was going through and doing whatever she could to cheer him up.

McConnie was “speechless” over the dance. Her sorority had worked hard to keep their tribute a secret. “I didn’t even know the theme for the dance was superhero,” McConnie said. “I think their goal was to make me cry because I did that a lot. My family did too.”

The following day, McConnie posted on Instagram a photo from the event with the caption: “I could not have asked for a better group of women to call my sisters. I feel blessed every day to have the honor of saying I am a Delta Phi Epsilon woman.”

“Going through this whole thing, it’s easy to feel alone,” explained McConnie. “But they never let me feel like I was alone. It’s just made this whole thing so much better.”

She says her biggest issue right now it rebuilding her strength. She’s going to rehab three times a week and is hoping to be back at TU this fall.

“No matter how many times she’s sick or in the hospital, she never lets it show. She never lets it stop her,” said Hester, a junior majoring in family and human services.

Delta Phi Epsilon placed third in the Greek Sing competition, which was led by sororities Zeta Tau Alpha and Kappa Delta.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities to for Towson University: Culture of Philanthropy.