Armless, legless student gets by with a little help from man's best friend

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by Meg Farris / Eyewitness News mfarris@wwltv.com

wwltv.com

Posted on September 8, 2009 at 9:44 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 22 at 5:03 PM

NEW ORLEANS - A?special teenager decided she wanted to go to college and have a normal life. And even though she was born without arms and legs,?she says once you get to know her, you will see she is not missing anything at all.

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And now a stranger,?along with "man's best friend," gave her the chance at a new, normal?life.

"Sit down, good girl,"?Kari Elizabeth?Heideman tells her service dog Jade.

Kari Elizabeth?Heideman?and Jade are special. Kari Elizabeth was born without developed arms or legs. Jade is an unwanted mix,?half-yellow lab, half greyhound, the only puppy in the litter left unclaimed at a flea market.

But then someone at "4 Paws for Ability"?in Ohio rescued Jade and trained her to be a service dog.

Around the same time,?Bob Chandler with the Knights of Columbus at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, Louisiana?decided to put on a fundraiser so at 17,??Kari could get her first chance at independence.

"Most of the money, people just poured their hearts out to Kari and which you can see why," said Chandler. "It was overwhelming."

The hope to raise $2,000 at a gumbo cooking contest, turned into $15,000 when people across many parishes heard about Kari Elizabeth.

"It was just amazing.?I felt so loved and?I just, you know, the sense of community was so strong.?I was just so pleasantly surprised and so grateful," said Heideman.

That afforded her the opportunity to go to Ohio for?two weeks to train with and bring home Jade. The cost was $13,000. She was apprehensive about big dogs and had never been on her own.?She was home schooled by her mother and later there was an adult attendant at her side throughout high school at?Covington High - not cool when you're a typical teen trying to have a social life.

"The adults felt the need to, like, answer questions for me sometimes,"?Heideman giggles. "And we felt like we really didn't have any privacy and so we kind of just made do with talking and hanging out, and then, like during a lunch break or something, when we were alone, we would all dish the dirt."

Kari Elizabeth excelled with a 4.5?GPA in gifted, advance placement classes. She became a statewide heroine, winning an award.

She can e-mail and navigate the Internet with her toes faster than many can do with fingers. She became an artist, taking photographs with her feet and enhancing them on the computer. She draws, even paints with her toes, so she decided to combine her intelligence and desire to be a doctor with her art work and used art therapy to help a special?ed child.

"I saw by the end of the year a really big improvement, like in her physical and her cognitive abilities, and?I just fell in love with that. ?I just really want to help people with art," said Heideman.?

So despite her mother's apprehension,?a mother who has devoted her life to her only child and endured the tragic loss of her husband, Kari?Elizabeth's father, just two years ago,?it's time to let go and pass her job and unconditional love on to Jade.?Kari?Elizabeth and Jade just headed from their home in?Franklinton to college at Tulane University.

"Sure?I worry about her, you know,?I've seen a change just even since Jade's been here," said?Kari?Elizabeth's Mother,?Waltah Heideman.?"I've seen her warm up and find a lot of joy even with Jade."

"I was really dedicated to getting good grades because?I kind of felt that that was the only thing?I could offer to college because?I'm not an athlete or anything. But it paid off.?I got into my dream school and?I am just so excited," said?Heideman with a big laugh when she thinks about ever being considered for an athletic scholarship.

Jade is learning to open doors and drawers, to help with the laundry, to pick up phones and wallets. She doesn't care if the rubs of praise on her neck come from a hand or foot.

"Good girl," calls out Heideman as Jade puts her clothes into the laundry basket.

Jade does not notice that she has?four working legs and?Kari?Elizabeth has none. All she sees is her heart through loving, adoring, canine eyes,?eager to please on a moment's notice.

"Bang," commands Heideman as Jade falls down and?plays dead.

Kari Elizabeth has settled into her dorm at?Tulane, and we plan do a follow up story with her to see how she is doing in school.

If you want to help with her needs and Jade's care,?you can donate to the?Kari?Elizabeth?Heideman fund at any Capital One Bank. You can also call Bob Chandler at 985-796-5303 and he will take your donation.?

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