Sometimes it really is the little things that make the biggest difference.

For Mackenzie Saunders, that little thing took the form of a handheld Nintendo DS.

You may remember Mackenzie, the Ahwatukee Foothills middle school student who spent more than a month in the hospital after an accident that left her partially paralyzed.

It happened during a soccer game in December 2009 when she was hit in the back by an opposing player. Mackenzie sustained a spinal cord injury from which she is still recovering.

It wasn't even a week into her hospital stay when Mackenzie received a pleasant surprise from a stranger. A girl named Hope walked into her room one day to give Mackenzie her Nintendo DS.

"She said she was getting a new one and didn't need this one anymore," Mackenzie said. "It was awesome ... I played it just about everyday in the hospital. It made being there not as boring."

As the one-year anniversary of her accident, and her Nintendo gift, approaches Mackenzie has decided to return the favor to other kids who have to spend the holidays in the hospital.

With the help of her family and friends, the 12-year-old has started "Sharing Hope," an effort to collect handheld systems to be passed out to children around Christmastime.

"We wanted to do something to give back and my girlfriend asked Mack what made the biggest impact on her and she said, of course, the DS," said Liz Saunders, Mackenzie's mother. "So on Halloween a bunch of us were standing outside talking and we decided, let's get this thing going."

The Saunders will be collecting any handheld system that is in working condition. They can be dropped off at Akimel Middle School, 2720 E. Liberty Lane, or at their home in Ahwatukee Foothills.

"I really wanted to do this because I was in that position, and I knew how hard it was," Mackenzie said. "I hope I can return the favor to a lot of kids who are in the hospital."

And, of course, Mackenzie wants to be the one to deliver the systems to the kids.

"I just want to see the looks on their faces," she said.

Although the months since the injury have been full of physical therapy sessions, Mackenzie said today she is "feeling great." She had a chance to talk about her injury with Meredith Vieira on the Today Show in mid-April when she and Liz and her father Gary appeared on the show (check out the interview on YouTube).

"That was so cool," Mackenzie said. "Meredith and (Matt Lauer) were so nice."

Being on national television and appearing in multiple print and online publications since December, there is one thing left on her list of accomplishments.

"I can't wait until I can play soccer again," she said.

Contact the Saunders by e-mail,, if you would like to make a donation.

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