By Srianthi Perera GSN Contributor
Jeff Fleenor extended his care, patience, routine, creativity and nurturing to help raise his 9-year-old autistic daughter Liv.Liv completed third grade at the Autism Academy for Education and Development in Gilbert and will enter fourth grade in the fall.
Now, Liv’s condition has taken a sudden nosedive.
And Fleenor must begin all over again.
Earlier this month, Liv was severely injured in an ATV accident at Bear Canyon Lake, near Payson. The girl was with her mom, Fleenor’s ex-wife, and members of her family.
Thrown off the vehicle and thrust into its front, Liv’s thighbone was fractured in four places, and her eye socket, other facial bones, nose and elbow also were broken. She also suffered a lacerated liver and lung.
Miraculously, with several surgeries completed, Liv is on the mend.
But a long and rocky road lies ahead.
“The biggest challenges for us are going to be her current autism on top of the severe injuries that she sustained and how those are going to be incorporated into the rehabilitation process in multiple therapies that she’ll need,” said Fleenor, who interrupted a vacation in Mexico to fly to Liv’s bedside at Phoenix Children’s Hospital after the accident.
Liv is mostly non-verbal, and the extent of her vocabulary is one- to four-word phrases.
After her accident, she has acquired a new word.
“She keeps yelling ‘help.’ She’ll wake up sporadically in the night and yell ‘help,’ I’ve never heard her say it before; it’s pretty scary,” said Fleenor, who suspects she has developed post-traumatic stress disorder as well.
In addition to coping with the challenges of Liv’s recovery, hospital bills and other expenses are mounting and becoming a challenge as well.
It doesn’t help that Fleenor, an Arizona native and a veteran who was a marketing director at Dos Gringos Mesa and Bourbon Jacks restaurants for nearly 12 years, recently launched his own startup business. The venture is in its infancy, leaving him unable to bear much of the unexpected expenses.
“I have never asked for anything ever in my life, and I hate to do it now, but at a time like this, I feel it’s the only option I have,” he wrote.
Fleenor’s restaurant industry friends are supporting him by donating to the GoFundMe account that’s been established by family members. A restaurant benefit is also planned for today, June 24.
“It’s good to see it coming from them because I don’t know where to go,” he said.
Meanwhile, Fleenor is evaluating his daughter’s needs now and in the near future.
Caregivers are syringing liquids and spoon-feeding her nutrition.
“She’s somewhat able to move around now, but she’s not able to sit up on her own yet,” he said.
Because of the orbital fracture, Liv may partially lose her vision in one eye.
“There could be a permanent loss of vision. The nerve is responding, but that doesn’t mean that her vision is there,” Fleenor said. “If she can have 20 percent vision, I’ll take 20.”
She also could have a limp as she relearns how to walk with a mobile right arm and left leg.
Then, there’s the potty-training issue. It took Fleenor years to train Liv to use the toilet. Now, she’s being re-trained to wear a diaper.
Even though her recovery is still in its infancy, Fleenor said things are much better than when he saw her first.
“At first sight of my daughter, I was terrified. She didn’t look like my daughter,” he wrote. “The smiley, lovely most beautiful angel on the planet surely couldn’t have been this girl laying in the hospital bed. The fog and haze that I experienced seeing my baby girl like that was awful. It was something no parent should ever have to see.”
Fleenor has taken Liv’s recovery under his wing. His ex-wife, Nichole Schnell, has 50 percent custody of her. The shared custody presents a challenge because of the girl’s current immobility.
Despite everything, Fleenor hopes and thinks positively that Liv will recover enough to resume the life she had.
“I’m staying strong for her. I am deeply, deeply saddened by the whole thing because it’s just hard, it’s difficult because I have worked so hard to get her where she’s at,” he said. “If I could trade places, I would, in a heartbeat.”
He’s also grateful to his donors.
“I appreciate everybody’s help and support. Keep us in your prayers and your thoughts and send us your positive vibes because it’s going to be a long, long road and I really appreciate everybody in the community,” he said.