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  • Writer's pictureMaria Mamora

Meet Mackenzie Drago: Miss Houston USA Hopeful and Endo Warrior

by Jill Stokes

Mackenzie Drago is a Texas woman who is bringing endometriosis awareness to the pageant circuit. EFHou intern Jill Stokes sat down to talk with Mackenzie about her journey with the disease and the Miss Houston USA stage.

Photo courtesy: Mackenzie Drago/ Photography by: Select Studios Photography

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

  • EFHou: You’re competing in Miss Houston USA soon! Can you share with us how you first became involved in pageants? 

  • Mackenzie: I actually have never done pageants before! Miss Houston USA will be my first ever. In July of 2023, I found myself feeling really stagnant and frustrated with my life, and I could feel my quality of life depleting. That was when I saw this TikTok for a pageant and I thought to myself, “Huh… That’s something I would never do. Let’s do it!” That night I signed up for Miss Texas USA, found a pageant coach, and started my journey. My coach also encouraged me to sign up for Miss Houston USA. Now I am days away from competing!

  • EFHou: Can you tell us about your initial symptoms and how they have impacted your daily life?

  • Mackenzie: My initial symptoms were extreme UTI-like symptoms. I asked my roommate if she could drive me to the ER. That would be the first of many ER visits. I had extreme stinging and burning pain and found myself doubled over in pain crying more than once a week.  I’d be working as a Student Teacher, teaching 9-10th graders while having to hold back tears from the amount of pain I was in. I would take bathroom breaks just to sit and try to regroup before putting a smile on my face in front of my students and coworkers. I was going to the ER at night after my shift and showing up to work at 7:15 am pretending that nothing happened. Needless to say, it was exhausting.  There were times when I’d be crying on the floor unable to move. I blacked out on my bathroom floor and went to the ER with thoughts of maybe I should make a will. What a thought for a 21 year old to have, right?

  • EFHou: That’s so hard, and unfortunately sounds so familiar. What first led you to suspect you might have endometriosis?

  • Mackenzie: I have had abdominal pain since I was 13 years old. This past year when I found myself in and out of the ER I started to suspect it could be endometriosis. I remember crying on my parents’ couch unable to move and all of us on google looking up what this could be. My dad was the one who told me that it might be this incurable illness that I’d have to live with for the rest of my life, and I remember my heart sinking. I was inconsolable because no 21 year old wants to hear that. I was in the prime of my life, but my body had different plans. 

  • EFHou: Can you describe the process of getting diagnosed with endometriosis? Were there any particular challenges or obstacles you faced during this time?

  • Mackenzie: I struggled with getting a doctor who listened to my pain and could help me. The first gynecologist I went to told me I probably didn’t have endometriosis but we could try three months of birth control. I politely told her that wasn’t an option for me because of the side effects. She told me this was the only way, saying surgery was only used in extreme cases. Needless to say, I left the doctor in tears. 

  • I realized I needed a second opinion. That’s when I found an endometriosis specialist, Dr. Brooke Thigpen. From the very first visit, I expressed my concerns, my story, my limitations, and she listened to me with open ears and a caring heart. She told me based on my symptoms she was 95% sure that I had endometriosis, possibly interstitial cystitis and/or adenomyosis. I got a call a couple of days later telling me the only day available for surgery was December 15th, and I said “sign me up!”

EFHou: What type of surgery did you have? What was your recovery like?

  • Mackenzie: I underwent a laparoscopic surgery where they made small incisions on my abdomen and would be looking for endometriosis and excising anything they saw. I was diagnosed with stage 2 endometriosis. My recovery was a little rough. I was only supposed to leave the same day; however, I was having serious issues with my balance/walking, I couldn’t go to the bathroom, and I couldn’t keep anything down. I was able to leave the next morning. I will forever be grateful to my dad who stayed with me throughout the surgery and the recovery, and to my mom for coming to see me the next day and help me settle at home. I had some small hiccups after my surgery like a small Photo courtesy: Mackenzie Drago/ Photography by: Select Studios Photography infection that caused a cord-like vein to appear, and the inability to walk more than 5 minutes without being severely winded for 3-5 weeks. 

  • EFHou: I’m sorry you had such a rough recovery! Do you think the surgery was worth it? How did it impact your quality of life?

  • Mackenzie: The surgery gave me back my life. I have had issues with endometriosis since I was 13 years old. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was what inhibited me from doing so much as a kid. I used to be very athletic and active, but when you have pain coming from an unknown source you start to do whatever you can to end that pain. After surgery, I was able to workout, run with my dog, and go on a 4.9 mile hike without pain. I have been doing things I never thought I would be able to. My nights are spent making memories with my friends and family instead of the ER staff. I will forever be grateful to Dr. Thigpen for giving me this new chance at life. 

  • EFHou: What an amazing difference! How has living with endometriosis and having excision surgery affected your outlook on life?

  • Mackenzie: Living with endometriosis has been a conflicting thing for me. Before my surgery, I was making a list of things to give to my friends and family in my will. I thought I was destined to die early on. That I wouldn’t be able to experience the joys in life like working, marriage, or having kids. After my surgery, it feels as if I’ve been given a second chance. However, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard. On one hand, it is such a blessing to be able to know a part of what is going on inside my body. On the other hand, I have a chronic disease that I will have for the rest of my life. It makes me nervous going forward. Will people understand when endometriosis is so written off? I have good days and bad days. How do I explain there’s something wrong with me internally when I look good externally? But I’m also fully capable even though I have endometriosis. 

  • EFHou: You chose endometriosis as your pageant platform. What message do you hope to convey through it?

  • Mackenzie: I chose endometriosis as my platform because it resonates with me so deeply and needs more awareness brought to it. It is an invisible illness, but that does not mean it should be invisible to our society. There is so little known about it and so few are able to get the gold standard of care even though it is needed by so many. I want to convey to people that although pain and discomfort is common, it is NOT normal. We have to start somewhere to change this mindset of our world, so why not start now?

  • EFHou: What do you wish more people understood about endometriosis?

  • Mackenzie: I wish more people knew what it is like to live everyday with endometriosis. It isn’t something you can take Ibuprofen for and suddenly you’re all good to go for the day. Some days you’re good and feel healthy as can be, and others you feel like a train has hit you. Endometriosis is a full body disease that we have to learn how to live with. To embrace. It isn’t in our heads and we are not making things up for attention. Why would we choose this as our way for attention? I would not wish this upon my worst enemy. 

  • EFHou: Are there any misconceptions about endometriosis that you'd like to address?

  • Mackenzie: A common misconception about endometriosis is that it is just “a bad period.” It is an inflammatory disease that can impact our daily life in so many ways. It is not something in our heads. Just because you cannot see what we are going through does not mean it is not there. 

  • EFHou: How do you think increased awareness and education about endometriosis could impact others with the condition?

  • Mackenzie: Increased awareness and education about endometriosis could help so many people. Most people don’t get diagnosed until late in their life, which can be too late for some to receive proper surgery. While there is no cure, there are ways to help manage your pain and people to go to for help. However, how are people supposed to receive help and care if they don’t even know what is wrong? Another huge reason why there should be increased awareness is for the mental health aspect. Sometimes you just need someone to say, “I hear you and your pain. I am here for you. It will get better.” 

  • EFHou: What advice would you give to someone who suspects they might have endometriosis or is currently navigating their own diagnosis journey?

  • Mackenzie: First of all, if you suspect that you might have endometriosis or know you do, I want you to know that I am so proud of you for listening to your body. That is a hard thing to do. Sometimes you are the only one advocating for yourself, so just know your body thanks you. I implore you to reach out for help, whether that is through a support group locally, online, or just reaching out to me or others for advice. Please know it is okay to have bad days where you feel like giving up or the end is near. But if you find yourself down on the ground, now you can look up and find me and the rest of the community extending our hand to help you through a tough time. Your pain is valid. Your voice is heard. You are NOT alone.

  • EFHou: When is the pageant scheduled to take place, and how are you preparing for it?

  • Mackenzie: My first pageant, Miss Houston USA, is at the Hilton Post Oak Hotel on March 30th! I have been preparing with pageant training since July of 2023 and interview training since February 2024. It has been a long journey where I have learned to push myself to a new limit, but also a wonderful journey where I have met some of the best people in my life. I have never seen such an encouraging group of women uplifting women. We all want to push ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves. My next pageant will be Miss Texas USA on June 21-22nd, 2024. 

  • EFHou: What will you do if you win the pageant title? How would you use the title to further your advocacy for endometriosis awareness?

  • Mackenzie: I would like to say for starters, that I believe I have already won internally. I don’t mean this to be full of myself, I mean this in the way that I have proved to myself that I am capable of so much more than I ever thought. I am so proud of myself for working hard to achieve something I never thought was possible. I can look at that little girl version of myself in my heart and say “I am proud of you. We did it.” That being said, if I won Miss Houston USA, I will use my title to spread awareness about women’s health with my focus on endometriosis. Photo courtesy: Mackenzie Drago/ Photography by: Select Studios Photography I will actively reach out to women in the community to get their story and try my best to go to news stations to spread the word. My title would help me further my reach to those that feel lost that just need someone to listen to them. I would be honored to serve as that person. Regardless of whether I win or not, I am going to do my best to continue my advocacy for Endometriosis and EFHou! 

Thank you Mackenzie for taking the time to share your endometriosis experience with us. We wish you the best of luck at Miss Houston USA and Miss Texas USA! Thank you for shining a spotlight on endometriosis. You can follow Mackenzie Drago on Instagram @mackenziedrago

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