PADUCAH — Inside Easterseals West Kentucky on North 29th St. in Paducah, there's a message written over the interior entry doors. Every person who walks through those doors is bound to look up and read it. The message is both simple and profound: Every child is a story yet to be told.
One of those stories belongs to Bella. At nearly 2-and-a-half years old she's been a regular at the Lily Pad for about a year-and-a-half. The Lily Pad is the Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care (PPEC) program that's part of Easterseals West Kentuky. The Lily Pad is a medical-model child development center that allows children with more complex medical needs to play and learn with other children their age.
Every morning that Bella's mother, Mandy Heal, arrives to drop her off, the greetings are positive and nonstop.
"I mean, she's a big hit here. Everybody loves Bella. I walk in, they're like, 'Hi Bella!' Everybody just loves her here, and she's just a kid that just draws you in," Heal said.
Bella might be small, but boy is she mighty. Nurses and staff at the Lily Pad welcome her infectious smile and big personality. Shavonna Dunbar works at the Lily Pad and has grown to have a special bond with Bella.
"Oh yeah, this is my pumpkin right here. Bella here is a special case, because I've just seen her blossom the last couple months. She's getting stronger. I'm just so proud of her," Dunbar said.
"Because of her condition, she's developmentally delayed. So, when she hits milestones, it's a huge deal," Dunbar added.
However, those milestones seemed about a million miles away when Bella first came to the Lily Pad.
"I honestly don't think she'd be alive if we didn't get her," Heal said.
Many Heal gained custody of Bella after a family member couldn't properly care for her.
"(Bella) was in really bad shape when I got her. She wasn't going to her doctor's appointments."
But Mandy's helping hand, loving heart and supportive family changed all that. Overnight, the family of five grew to six.
"Which was a huge thing, and my kids love her. She's crazy about my husband. We all have, I mean, she's ours now," Heal said.
Bella was born with Koolen-De Vries syndrome, which causes developmental delays and an intellectual disability. The Lily Pad provides the special attention and care she needs.
Director of Nursing Madison Apple said the care and services provided at the Lily Pad are priceless to parents.
"The children that are here typically can't go to a typical child care setting. They have a medical diagnosis. Their doctor's ordered for them to be here. We have therapists that are contracted out, so our children are able to receive their speech, occupational and physical therapy while they're here. Parents don't have to run around taking them to those appointments after they pick them up," Apple said.
That treatments for clients like Bella and others leads to successes everyone celebrates.
"This place brings me so much joy — to be with these children, and make a difference in their life, and helping them achieve their goals, and then set new goals and reach those as well," Apple said.
Blake Sullivan helps Bella reach one of those goals as her physical therapist. On the day WPSD Local 6 visited, Sullivan placed Bella in a special chair to help strengthen her muscles.
"We're going to put you in this stander, make you stand up nice and tall — get your legs all nice and strong," Sullivan told Bella.
The hope is she can one day stand on her own without many braces or supports, and when Bella's in her special chair, Heal can't help but feel inspired.
"It's crazy to see her standing. I think this is the second time I've seen her in it, so it's pretty emotional. I think there's a huge chance that she could grow up and be normal and live her own life," Heal said.
And that's thanks to the loving care Bella receives at the Lily Pad and donations made during the Lions Club WPSD Local 6 Telethon of Stars. This year's telethon is from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14. For more details, click here.