Monday, February 20, 2006

True Story

Ok, I usually don't even read stories like this because they come almost daily in email. Stories of angels, miracles, etc. Touching tales that are supposed to leave you teary-eyed. Almost none of them have any way to substantiate that they are factual. I believe most of them to be either complete fiction or third-hand gossip. This, however, comes from a nearby newspaper and gives actual names . It's well worth reading. The article contained pictures too, but, being the technological ignoramus that I am, I couldn't copy them on here.

By LISA REICOSKY Repository Living Section writer

It was around 10 the night of Jan. 6, when Sondra Khoenle got home from Wal-Mart with her 5-year-old son Tyler.
Tyler’s friend Katie was very ill and Sondra wanted to get a gift to take to her in the morning.
Sondra was busy in the kitchen when another son, Kyle, told her to come into the living room to see Tyler.
“He’s dancing, but there’s no music on. I think he’s lost it,” Kyle told her.
Sondra followed him in and watched Tyler, her little boy with Down syndrome, dance around the room smiling and singing.
“What are you doing, Tyler?” she asked.
“I fly!” he said. “I flying with Katie.”
“Where are you flying, Tyler?” she asked, amused.
Pointing out the window, Tyler said, “Katie fly there.”
Tyler continued to dance for a while, then stopped and did the sign language symbol for “all done.”
“Done flying?” Sondra asked.
“I done. Katie flying,” he said.
That night Tyler slept with his mother, not usually a comfortable thing for her because he tosses and turns and sits up all night. On this night, however, he slept peacefully throughout.
The next morning Sondra went to Katie’s house to deliver the present from Tyler. She left him at home so he wouldn't excite her too much.
That’s when she found out Katie had died at 11:19 the night before.
“How do you tell a 5-year-old child with a disability that his friend died?” Sondra asked. “I went home and told Tyler that Katie went to heaven to be an angel.”
“I know,” Tyler said. “Katie flyin’.”

Two peas in a pod
Everyone knew Tyler Khoenle and Katie Carman had a special bond.
Katie could speak few words, but she could say “Tyler.” The two often communicated with sign language, sometimes with signs only they knew.
Tyler started at Greenwood Integrated Preschool when he was 3. It was April of 2004 and he didn't want to go.
“He cried every day when I put him on the bus,” Sondra remembered.
In August, things changed. The bus stopped at Katie’s house and suddenly Tyler didn't mind school so much.
“All he talked about was Katie, Katie, Katie,” said Sondra.
The two were side by side from that point on, a sometimes difficult thing when their teacher wanted them to walk single file down the hallway.
“They were like a married couple,” said teacher Trudy Zimmerman. “They were so funny, so cute.”
She’s quick to point out, though, that everyone had a special place in their heart for Katie, not just Tyler.
Zimmerman’s class has four “typically developing” students, as well. She remembered the day the class was learning the letter “B” and Katie was able to say, “baby.” She called Thomas, the little boy next to her, “Baby,” and he took offense. At 5 and getting ready for kindergarten, that was quite an insult.
“I explained to him that Katie couldn't say ‘friend’ or ‘Thomas’ and she just wanted to be his friend,” Zimmerman recalled. “He looked at her and said, ‘You can call me baby anytime.’ Those kids loved her.
“But everyone knew it was the Katie and Tyler show,” she added.
And when it came to Tyler, apparently Katie had a jealous streak.“Tyler couldn't talk to other girls,” Sondra said. “She would hold her finger up and say, ‘no, no, no.’ And if she sat next to the wrong person, he'd do the sign for ‘Stop.’”
“There was something magical between the two of them,” Sondra believes. “She didn't look at Tyler and say, ‘You look funny,’ and in his eyes, she was perfect.”

A beautiful gift in an imperfect package
Jeff Carman remembers getting the phone call more than four years ago asking his wife, Judi, and him to come to Van Wert to see Katie, an infant who needed a home. They had two biological children, Troy, now 32, and Ryan, now 30, and had already adopted four children with special needs. But the Carmans, 55 and 54 respectively at the time, didn’t know if they could handle another infant.
“I thought, they can't be dumb enough to place a baby with us,” Jeff said, adding quietly, “I guess we never really were supposed to have her very long.”
“Fragile” was how social workers described Katie.
She was born addicted to crack, and doctors learned later she may have had a stroke en utero and had a rare metabolic disorder that blocked her body’s processing of protein.
On that day the Carmans met her, social workers asked the couple how they would handle the death of a child.
“Nothing can prepare you for that,” said Jeff.
Judi, a former hospice nurse, was able to care for Katie’s needs, feeding her through a tube and keeping her blood sugar elevated so she did not go to her body’s protein reserves. But the protein allergywore on her heart.
At 2, she was diagnosed with terminal cardiomyopathy. Her heart would eventually fail.
With her bright blue eyes, auburn hair, and vibrant energy, it was hard for others to tell she was sick.
“She looked fine to everyone, but she was a walking time bomb,” said Judi.
Katie never sat still for long. She liked to chase her golden retriever puppy she called “Woof Woof,” and she loved dolls and babies.
“She felt every baby wanted a hug from her,” said Judi. “She didn’t have time for TV. It was as if she knew she didn’t have time.”
Though Katie couldn’t eat food, Judi said she liked to get a bowl and spoon so she could pretend to eat with her family.
Judi thought about making her stay in bed to try to preserve her health, but thought it wouldn’t be much of a life for a girl with so much zeal.
“I couldn’t hold her back,” Judi said, and she enrolled her in preschool.
About a year later, Katie’s heart weakened; around Thanksgiving Judi called the school to say Katie would not return. An echocardiogram Dec. 5 showed limited function and Katie came home from the hospital on oxygen and an IV.
The last week of Katie’s life was the worst week of Judi’s. Cutting down her feedings and watching her struggle to breathe is something she tries to block from her memory.
Even with three other kids at home, the house is quiet now.
“The quiet times are the tough times,” Jeff said. “When the commotion stops, that’s when we miss Katie.”

Extraordinary parents
Judi and Jeff are learning to live without Katie. Their other children need them.
Eddie, 20, was adopted at age 3. He was abused and neglected. He is now serving in the military. Mary, 16, adopted at 3 months old, has spina bifida. Her legs were amputated at age 6 because of her birth defects. Michael, 12, has heart defects, a blood disorder and psychological disorders. He was adopted at 7 months. And finally John, 7, was brought home at 4 months.
John was born with an open abdomen and no muscle or tissue over his organs, called cloacal and bladder extrophy, which lead to short gut syndrome. He has no colon and is fed through a tube at night. Two months before Katie died, he had surgery that required his hips to be broken. He is recuperating at home, but will need more surgery to repair his kidneys soon.

Why did the Carmans take all of this on? They believe it was their calling.
In 1987, Judi, a devout Catholic, said she had a “prompting,” — a feeling she was supposed to do more. Jeff felt it too. “And the doors kept opening,” said Judi.
Both say they heard a voice telling them what to do during quiet prayer time.
Both followed their hearts and made themselves available to the children who needed them.
Although the family was financially comfortable (he works for United Foundries in Canton), like many couples, the Carmans lived paycheck to paycheck. Jeff worried how they would make it financially, especially when they adopted Mary.
Then their church, Queen of Heaven, “had a shower, people provided, and shortly after that I got a promotion and a raise. After that, I thought, I’ll just trust and He’ll work it out,” Jeff said. “God has placed these kids with us for whatever reason.”

Here for a purpose
Judy believes Katie’s short life had meaning and that she touched many.
Troy, who was 15, when his first adopted sibling came home, said, “It’s hard to have a bad day when you see some of the experiences these kids go through.”
Judi and Jeff’s grandson Christian has learned acceptance and empathy for children with differences.
Judi said telling Katie’s story lets parents know to “appreciate your children and their life.” And, she urged, when it comes to children with disabilities, “Learn from them. Open your ears, eyes, and hearts.”
Many strangers have contacted Judi since Katie’s death, drawn to her by the angelic picture of her that ran with her obituary. Judi thinks they are being inspired by Katie to pray for her family.
And perhaps Katie’s most profound purpose, Judi believes, came with her death.
“She’s testifying to heaven through the mouth of a 4-year-old boy with Down syndrome,” she said.
“There’s something wonderful in the spiritual world we can’t understand,” she continued. “She was an amazing child given to us by an amazing God.”
Saying good-bye
Tyler and his mom went to the funeral home to say good-bye to Katie. The priest, Father David Durkee, held up the service for about five minutes while Tyler held and kissed her hand and played with her hair.
The emotional scene brought tears to the eyes of nearly all who witnessed it. Some wondered if this small child with Down syndrome could possibly understand what was happening.
“Katie looked just like Katie. She looked just like a princess,” said Judi.
She asked Tyler if he wanted to say good-bye to Katie.
Sondra remembers, “He looked right at Judi and said, ‘That’s not my Katie-girl. My Katie go bye-bye. My Katie’s flying.’”

The Special Child
The Child, yet unborn, spoke with the Father, “Lord, how will I survive on the world? I will not be like other children. My walk may be slower, my speech hard to understand, I may look different. What is to become of me?”
The lord replied to the child, “My precious one, have no fear, I will give you exceptional parents;, they will love you because you are special, not in spite of it. Though your path through life will be difficult, your reward will be greater, you have been blessed with a special ability to love, and those whose lives you touch will be blessed because you are special.”
Author unknown


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