Another Special Life in Christ
These testimony lives are not stories of "role models". Jesus is the
These are lives wonderfully touched & changed by Jesus!
(modified from article posted on Sat, May. 25,
2002 The State newspaper, South Carolina by Chuck Crumbo)
Triumph of the human spirit
creates beauty out of the darkness
Leah Fitzgerald draws roses. She sculpts unicorns
from clay. She makes prints of dolphins jumping through ocean waves.
Art has always been one of Leah's loves. As a
small child she would sit at the kitchen table and draw horses, dogs and butterflies from art
So when people praise her work, a broad smile
widens across Leah's face, and her green eyes brighten with joy.
"It makes people happy," Leah said of her art.
"That makes me feel nice."
Leah has one wish, though. She wants to see her
Leah is blinded by a rare nerve disorder called
Batten's disease. It causes seizures. It saps her strength. Eventually, it will lead to
dementia and death. There's no known cure.
But spare your pity for Leah
She doesn't need it.
"I can't see," Leah said, speaking in bursts of
three- to-five word sentences. "I'm glad I do art. I'm happy. I have
Friday night, Leah walked across the stage of the
Carolina Coliseum as one of 354 members of Ridge View High School's Class of
Friends and family were there to cheer her on.
Classmates and teachers were there too to assist Leah through another rite of passage. But
Leah's success at Ridge View isn't measured by SAT scores, club memberships or athletic
Instead, it's about how she has made the best of
every day and how she has touched others.
"I want people to know that she's sweet, and they
should accept her for who she is," said a schoolmate and friend, 17-year-old Jodie Gibbons.
"She would never do anything to hurt you."
Blonde and thin, Leah Fitzgerald is very much a
She has had her crushes on movie stars. When talk
turns to boys, she looks away with a shy smile. Her fingernails are alternately painted in
sparkly purple and silver, Ridge View's colors.
She talks on the phone with friends, tunes in to
"I Love Lucy" reruns on the television, and sometimes balks when it's time for
Food, of course, is a favorite topic. She likes
chicken and fries.
And she likes flowers.
"I like to draw roses. They are my sister's
favorite," Leah said, referring to her only sibling, 20-year-old Amanda.
Like Leah, Amanda suffers from Batten's disease.
Her condition is much worse. As frail as she is, Leah helps her mother, Donna Fitzgerald, a
retired Army nurse and single parent, care for Amanda.
The seizures that often afflict her sister are
just a routine part of Leah's world.
A deep faith in God and a desire to make every day
count keep Fitzgerald and her daughters together as they cope with Batten's
"We just try to keep life as happy as possible and
as normal as possible," Fitzgerald said.
SEEING WORLD IN
In 1994, when Leah was 9, Donna Fitzgerald learned
both of her daughters were losing their sight to Batten's.
The disease is rare in the United States; only 300
to 350 new cases are reported each year. It shows its early symptoms around ages 5 to 10,
usually vision problems or seizures.
Although the family had traveled a good bit during
her Army career, Donna Fitzgerald was determined her girls would see much of its wonders
before their world darkened.
So in 1995, they went to Europe, visiting top
galleries in France, England and Italy including the renowned Musee du Louvre in
A couple of years ago, teachers and administrators
at Ridge View noticed Leah becoming more withdrawn as her disease progressed. She's in the
Career Prep program for students with learning disabilities.
Because she needed more individual attention, they
added Randall Clamp, who's studying to be an art teacher at USC, to the Special Services
Clamp, a soft-spoken man with long blond hair and
beard, met with Leah and talked about their mutual love of art.
He'd read art books to her, describe the pictures
and discuss the lives of the masters.
Leonardo da Vinci was her favorite, she
Then Clamp asked her to draw a
At the time, Leah still had some peripheral vision
and could see thick, black lines on white paper.
Her first piece was a rose.
Clamp requested another drawing. This time it was
a seal, full of expression and dimension. Then she drew a dog, a Christmas angel, and many
more until she simply declared she was through.
"I was amazed," Clamp said. "Leah was a gifted
As her vision worsened, her pieces evolved into
abstract works of art, chaotic and full of misplaced detail.
Leah then tried more tactile forms of art,
including ceramics and printmaking with Styrofoam sheets.
While she knows Braille and sign language, using
her hands to make art was a breakthrough.
"Mr. Clamp taught me I have 10 eyes," Leah said,
raising her hands and spreading her fingers apart.
Leah's art is nothing less than a triumph of her
zest for life, her mother said.
"Leah knows she's not going to live out a full
life," Fitzgerald said. "Art is her way of making a mark in the world, leaving something
But there's more to Leah.
Leah has been as much a teacher as a student, said
Jimmy Crosby, who has been one of her teachers since middle school.
"She teaches you more about the human spirit and
the approach we take to everyday life," Crosby said. "I look at my own life. I see how
precious and fragile it is."
Ridge View principal Sharon Buddin said Leah also
is a positive influence on students who have worked with her as tutors and
"Her strength is that other kids realize their
strengths," Buddin said. "They are so willing to learn a tremendous amount about patience and
dealing with people with a wide range of disabilities.
Schoolmate Whit Meetze, 17, sometimes holds Leah's
hand as she makes her way through the hallways, teeming with hundreds of teens rushing to
their lockers and classrooms.
"She's just a part of the school," Meetze said.
"No one stares. She respects people, and she has taught us how to accept
When Clamp thinks of Leah and what she has
accomplished, he pauses for a moment and reflects. She'll always be someone he remembers, he
"It breaks your heart, but you can't change that,"
he said. "The opportunity to work with Leah has truly been a blessing."
While her classmates are heading off to college,
the military or a job, the future for Leah will be more of Career Prep at Ridge View. Federal
law requires schools to teach students with learning disabilities until they're
Still, she dreams of someday leaving Ridge View
and having a job working with children.
There is another dream she harbors. It's one she
firmly believes will happen.
"I will see again," Leah said.
And when will that be?
"When I go to heaven."
faith & health information [here].
***give me your comments about this
(posted 25 May 2002)
You have just read a very brief example of the
powerful, supernatural transformation of a person's life which is possible through the
acceptance of Jesus as your savior. Are you tired of life as it now is for you? He will
accept you just as you are right this second! Consider accepting Jesus now