Monday, January 01, 2007

Woman adopts special needs children

Caring as a way of giving -
Berea woman embodies spirit of Christmas
Ismail, Raviya. Lexington Herald-Leader, Dec. 26, 2006, pg. C1.

BEREA -- When Maudie Neeley was undergoing treatment for breast cancer two years ago, she told her doctors one thing: "I can't stay here, I have to go home to my babies."

Neeley has five grown children, 16 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

But that's not who she was talking about.

She was talking about Laura, Nikki and Crystal, three special needs girls who have been under Neeley's care for many years.

"It's all about them," said Neeley, 73.

Neeley embodies the spirit of Christmas -- her favorite holiday. She enjoys the holiday because it's "Jesus' birthday," but she doesn't view it as simply a gift-giving event.

"People need to look around their neighborhoods and see what people need and do something for them," she said.

Who better to say such words than Neeley?

She adopted Laura when Laura was born 24 years ago. She has microcephaly, which means she has a small brain and is mentally handicapped.

Ten years later Neeley adopted Nikki, now 15, when Nikki was about a year old; Crystal, now 25, came in 1994. Nikki and Crystal have cerebral palsy. Crystal has seizures and is legally blind. None of the girls can walk, and Laura is bedridden.

Neeley recalls when she first laid eyes on Laura at a University of Kentucky Hospital room. Doctors had told her Laura was blind and deaf and had a few months to live.

"She just looked up at me like 'you've come to my rescue,'" Neeley said. "And I had."

Neeley goes all-out on her favorite holiday. Wreaths hang from every window, four Christmas trees stand inside the house, and a life-size Santa Claus greets guests near her front door. The house shuffles with activity, and smells of food waft in the air while the girls are given constant care and attention.

"This is my baby," said Neeley, as she bent down to look at Laura.

Laura was dressed in a red nightgown with little snowmen all over it. She cradled a doll in one arm and a Christmas-themed white stuffed bear in the other. She loves watching television and taking baths.

Neeley kissed her cheek and playfully patted her on the arm. Laura looked up and smiled.

"She's never spoken a word, but she knows everything," Neeley said.

In another room are Nikki and Crystal. Nikki loves people and Ritz crackers. It was Nikki's 15th birthday on Christmas Day. She watches Nickelodeon cartoons while Crystal -- who likes to be left alone -- sits in a wheelchair.

"I take care of them just exactly as you would a normal child," said Neeley. Over the years, Neeley also has taken in foster children and remains in touch with many of them.

Her need to help children began early. After her parents died when she was young, a half-sister raised her and 14 siblings. Neeley felt the need to give back as a result.

"The Lord has been awful good to me," she said.

All the girls need round-the-clock care, from daily baths to being fed. Neeley gets help from her children and grandchildren, who have welcomed the girls as a part of the family.

Becky Seals, one of Neeley's five daughters, speaks admiringly of her mother.

"Everyone that knows her, just knows she's special," Seals said.


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