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Little Lady Bears fan battles disease, meets President

By Christine McCarthy

ELM MOTT- Ten-year-old Haley Klepper might be one of the national champion Baylor Lady Bears' tiniest fans but she is also the basketball team's proudest cheerleader, attending games and practices, and stopping by her own locker in the Ferrell Center.

As Haley cheered on the team during their historic 40-0 season, she battled a mysterious mitochondrial disease, so rare that doctors have been baffled for years about how to treat her.

"The doctors are struggling through trying to figure out what to do with her," said Haley's father, Greg Klepper, of the disorder that is causing her motor skills, vision and hearing to deteriorate, "but we're making headway, and we're doing everything we can do."

Greg reached out to Baylor Lady Bears Coach Kim Mulkey, who immediately took Haley in as an "adopted" team member and introduced her to a team of new friends much taller than she.

"Just as a concerned mother, she stepped in there and she's just a gracious, exceptional, beautiful person. Very loving to the kids," Greg said about Mulkey's love for Haley and her 12-year-old sister, Hannah.

Star forward Destiny Williams also embraced her new "little sister."

"Being around her just makes you feel better as a person - not even concerning basketball, just as an individual," Williams said. "She's strong, and I love her."

Hannah helps care for Haley, pushing her stroller and assisting nanny Kristin Crenshaw, who also acts more like a big sister to Haley.

"They just really took Haley under their wing and it just feels really special," Hannah said of the team.

This week, when the Baylor Lady Bears headed to Washington, D.C. to meet President Obama, Haley, Hannah and family excitedly went, too.

Haley sat in the front row as the team took the stage on Wednesday. She and Hannah also got silver necklaces to match their teammates.' Cameras caught President Obama kneeling down and sharing a few words with Haley.

"He thinks that I'm pretty," Haley shyly said.

She later energetically shouted, "Go Bears. They're my favorite."

The girls' mother, Brenda Klepper, said she couldn't ask for better role models for her children than the team of Lady Bears.

"They're just very special," an emotional Brenda said. "She told me at the very beginning she just thought it was the best thing that she could be a part of a team."

"As long as she's fighting, we're going to fight it with her," Williams said, adding that she is concerned but positive about Haley's condition. "We're going to stick together as a family."

Mom Brenda said Haley is happy and the family is optimistic researchers will find a cure for her.

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