The Knight Award


Kayla Nakonechni was a Penn State student and Penn State Dance Marathon (THON) dancer when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 astrocytoma. In August 2013 she underwent surgery to have a tumor removed from her left brain. Her surgery came after months of partial seizures, including a full gran mal seizure, and her diagnosis came as a surprise. Kayla elected to have all of her procedures and treatment at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, in large part due to her passion for THON. Kayla immediately took her incredible strength and positive attitude into six weeks of daily radiation and weekly chemotherapy. She returned to Penn State after missing only one semester and made the Dean's List despite still going through chemo treatments. Before THON 2014, Kayla received the Diamond of Strength Award at the Road To THON Celebration. Though she experienced complications over the next year, including several blood transfusions and a bout with a lung disease, Kayla was no evidence of disease. In December 2014, Kayla graduated from Penn State with a degree in biology. In late 2014, Kayla's cancer returned. After weeks of chemotherapy and another round of radiation in July 2014, Kayla's tumors had decreased in size. However, her body was not able to withstand the cumulative effects of her treatment and disease. She passed away surrounded by family on October 14, 2015. Each year during the Liberty Ball we will remember and honor Kayla for her strength, courage, and incredible passion for THON.