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Cruising through the nations of Epcot, Kendal and Lauren try on jewelry and clothing from Morocco.
How many doctors had Kendal Croney seen?

A half-dozen, a dozen, but nothing changed.

Frustration -- maybe a little luck -- led her parents, Charles and Diane Croney, to a new doctor at a family practice, York Pediatric Medicine.

"We thought we'd give her a shot, someone who didn't know Kendal or her history," Charles Croney says. "It was just pot luck."

Dr. Rachelle Ambrose recognized a pattern.

"She's the one who pushed," Diane says about Ambrose. "She's the one who finally saw that something was going on."

Ambrose put the Croneys in touch with other doctors who wanted a look at Kendal's X-rays from the previous several years. They determined she had pneumonia, and that she'd had it for years. The doses of antibiotics given her during each bout of the lung infection made her feel better, but hadn't eliminated the problem.

The doctors asked Kendal to leave the room and told Diane they believed she might have progressive cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease that affects the lungs.

40 percent function: Kendal's lungs were functioning at 40 percent. Many tests followed. There were initial guesses, but nothing fit, Diane says. They talked about removing Kendal's left lung, but opted first to try treatment. Kendal checked in to Hershey Medical Center where she donned a vibrating vest.

"Her left lung was bogged in," Diane says. "They put the vest on her to shake loose the congestion."

The treatment seemed to work; the doctors scrutinized ailments and eventually called in an immunolo-gist. Ten days later, Kendal
was diagnosed with common variable immune deficiency (CVID).

In 10-minute increments during a four-hour span, a doctor who'd squeezed the Croneys in between appointments detailed the disorder.

"It was really tough to wrap our minds around," Diane says. "I asked, 'How long are we looking at,' and was told with a smile, 'Pretty much long term.'"

Diane went to the computer and looked at every Web site listing the disorder.

The doctors scheduled an infusion that would deliver antibodies, called immunoglobulins, to Kendal's immune system.

Feeling alone: This was the first of a lifelong treatment. It is not a cure. It is a reprieve.

"There are people who help, who understand," Diane says. "But sometimes it just feels like we're alone in this."

The isolation brings them here, to Disney World where strangers share similar stories at the third annual Immune Deficiency Foundation's conference.

The national nonprofit health organization works to improve diagnosis and treatment of primary immune deficiency diseases.

But on this morning, the Croneys' fourth day in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Kendal has had enough.

She's tired from a late night at the pool and hot tub. She's tired of the conference, of meeting kids she doesn't know, of talking about ailments.

She'd rather ignore bed-head, stay beneath the blankets in their eighth-floor room, eat a blueberry muffin and entertain her parents.

"She's like, 'It's soooo bea-u-ti-ful. There's pixie dust on the seats, and look, there's Tinkerbell,'" Kendal says, imitating a conversation between a mother and daughter on a bus that shuttled them to the resort. "So the girl says, 'I hate Tinkerbell.'"

Diane chirps in, "(The mother) was so impressed with the bus, she didn't need Disney World."

Nothing scheduled: Today is the last day of the convention, and planners seem to have overlooked 10- to 13-year-olds, as no activities for them are scheduled. So Charles will attend workshops about insurance, treatments and the transition from child to adult while Diane and Kendal hang out. This afternoon they'll do Epcot.

A half-hour passes before Kendal climbs out of bed, irons a shirt and dresses for the day. She takes a dose of prednisone and heads to a hotel caf for a snack. The prednisone upsets her stomach; the food is fuel.

She grabs a soda, a bagel and cream cheese. A beep signals a perfectly toasted bagel. Kendal slides it onto her plate, glances at 11-year old Lauren Lowell, who sits beside the only empty chair at the table. Diane talks with Terri Lowell, a convention attendee and mother of two. Kendal glances at her mom before sitting down.

Mothers' war stories: She focuses on her bagel and preps it with cream cheese while Terri and Diane exchange war stories. Terri's
youngest daughter, 8-year-old Gabriella Maselli, was too sick to make the trip. She's at home in West Haven, Conn., with her other mom, Terri's partner Evelyn Maselli.

"They were starting to look for veins in her feet," Terri says about infusions Gabriella received. "There was just nowhere to go."

The two women continue. They talk about Gabriella's diagnosis at age 2 with CVID and later with mitochondrial disease, a potentially fatal disease that affects brain function, vision, muscles and energy levels.

They discuss differences in immune-boosting treatments while Kendal and Lauren find common ground -- clothes, weight and boys. They are bored with convention activities and topics.

"Do you want to go to the arcade?" Lauren asks Kendal.

"Can I have some money?" Kendal asks Diane.

Diane and Terri exchange phone numbers. They talk more about treatments, about schools and about family.

"You say 'immune' and the first thing people think is HIV," Terri says. "It's a whole different thing, and a lot of the teachers just don't understand. The kids look OK, so they assume there's nothing wrong."

"The teachers act like you want your kids home," Diane says. "I've been a mother for 22 years, I want some peace."

Charles, on break from a seminar, pulls a chair up to the table. Diane introduces Terri and fills him in on the past two hours of conversation.

"I see a lot of driving in my future," Charles says.

Kendal programmed Lauren's number into her phone. They're meeting at the pool in an hour or so. The adults say goodbye, for now.

"We're all in this together," Diane says. "We'll see you in a while."

Tomorrow: Some 20 years ago, Kendal Croney likely would have been considered just a sickly child. But years of research into the human immune system have led doctors to diagnose and treat genetic immune deficiency disorders. Still, that doesn't make life easy on a precocious 12-year-old girl.