Community rallies behind Puzzle Pieces client

November 5, 2018 | 3:00 am

Updated November 5, 2018 | 8:00 am

When Amanda Owen opened Puzzle Pieces on Sept. 4, 2012, Leah Abell was one of the first clients through the door. Abell, who has cerebral palsy, first met Owen while she was teaching special services at Burns Middle School. Owen was a founding member of Team Karlie, whose mission is to provide people with physical disabilities the use of a special jogging stroller so they can participate in the sport of running. Team Karlie is named after Karlie Hempel, another young woman with cerebral palsy.

“I remember having a conversation one day with Leah about my relationship with Karlie, and she said I loved Karlie,” Owen said. “Before that day the thought of Puzzle Pieces never existed. Through conversations with Leah, she inspired me to want to develop a ‘love’ she saw with Karlie and I for many others, including Leah. I knew that couldn’t happen in my classroom.”

Over the last 12 years, Abell has become like family to Owen, who considers her more of a sister than Puzzle Pieces client. Owen said she has realized Puzzle Pieces isn’t just a place Abell goes to each day for support.

“It’s a family building relationships to just help each other get through life each day with as much joy as possible,” Owen said. “And we didn’t provide that for Leah as much as Leah provided that for the staff and friends of these places.”

So when Abell was admitted to the hospital last week complaining of nausea and abdominal pain, her Puzzle Pieces family, including Owen, rallied around her.

When her symptoms could no longer be treated at home, Abell’s parents, Ronnie and Sara, took their daughter to the Owensboro Health emergency department, where treatment for sepsis began immediately.

According to the family’s CaringBridge site, doctors were unable to identify the reason for Abell’s sepsis, so she was taken for exploratory surgery, where it was discovered that a majority of her bowel was dead.

Abell was on a ventilator until Sunday morning. The CaringBridge site said Abell “is tearful as she is fully aware now.” It further said her doctors and family are waiting to have their first conversation with Abell to know exactly how she is feeling so they can address her needs.

“Anyone who knows Leah knows she is a fighter,” Owen said. “She lives for friendships, so I know that is exactly what will help her fight through this sickness. She would love to know the stories being shared, the parties that gathered in the waiting room, the texts, the posts of pictures and the outpouring of love and support for her. She will not let this bring her down, because when most of us would have given up in many of her situations Leah always laughs it off and lives through it.”

Owen said that knowing the community is rallying behind her will make Abell fight stronger. Owen encourages people to share their stories about Abell on social media with #WeAreAbell #SheIsAbell #GodIsAbell or on Abell’s CaringBridge site.

November 5, 2018 | 3:00 am

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