Laurel Kuenzler is an an “overcomer.” She suffered a traumatic brain hemorrhage followed by a month on a ventilator and life support while in a coma. Despite this adversity, the Newton High School graduate recently released her first book, “Little Piggy,” a children’s tale that follows the story of a turtle who tries to survive on the street, where she eventually finds friends to help her get back home. The book’s message couldn’t be more timely.
“The turtle meets animals who aren’t of her species, and they learn to get along and become friends,” said Kuenzler, who lives in Hamburg. “Who knew with all of the recent racism how appropriate the message would be.”
The idea for the book came to Kuenzler in 2005, as she drove to the airport from her mother’s house in Newton.
“I saw a turtle on the side of the road,” she said. “What struck me was pink painting on its shell that read, ‘Little Piggy.’ Later, I told my husband about the turtle and thought, ‘I’d like to write a story about that turtle one day.’ The idea got put on the back burner.”
Fast forward to July 2006, when Kuenzler unexpectedly suffered a brain hemorrhage. There had been no warning signs.
“They couldn’t fly me to a trauma center because of tornado warnings, so they had to drive me by ambulance,” she said. “During this time, the hemorrhage went from small to very large. The police went to our home (then in Goshen, N.Y.) and told my husband, ‘You better come with us. We think she’s almost gone.’”
’How about that turtle?’
One month later, Kuenzler awoke at Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Hospital.
“I was in so much pain and could not comprehend what had happened to me,” she said. “There was a little TV on in my room, and my first memory was hearing that famed crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, had passed away. I’m a huge animal love and had watched his show growing up. All I thought with all the pain was, ‘Steve, take me with you.’ I’m glad he didn’t.”
Kuenzler’s husband, Rich, could see how much pain she was in. He also knew, from what the doctors had told him, that he had to get his wife’s brain working again: thinking, creating.
“He asked me, ‘How about that turtle?’” Kuenzler said.
He urged Kuenzler to dictate the story to him as he wrote it down. “We started with a few sentences in February and March of 2007 as I tried to get better,” she said.
As her recovery progressed, she was able to complete whole chapters. She gave them to family members as presents, since she couldn’t go out to do gift shopping. The heartfelt tale was released in March.
Finding new friends
Little Piggy is the beloved pet of a little girl named Maggie. The turtle was so-named because of its healthy appetite and willingness to eat just about anything. Maggie paints “Little Piggy” on the turtle’s shell in her favorite bright pink color of nail polish.
Little Piggy’s world, in Maggie’s mother’s garden, is wonderful until some raccoons break into the garden and Little Piggy has to run for her life. Hungry and afraid, she seeks out other turtles to find food and safety, thinking others of her kind will be her best chance for survival. Not so: they refuse to help and just laugh at her because of the pink letters on her shell. Eventually, Little Piggy finds new friends who are of a different species than herself. Their adventure begins.
“Little Piggy learns that the very thing that makes her different may be the only thing that can save her life and and reunite her with her beloved family,” Kuenzler said. “The message of the book is getting along with others even though they may be different than you are.”
The book’s message is also one of the importance of determination and never giving up. Each and every day, Kuenzler gets up and faces the world despite the pain she still suffers from the hemorhage. Like her book’s heroine, Kuenzler has exhibited incredible resilience and resolve to get her life back.
Little Piggy was published by Covenant Books and is available through Amazon and Barns & Noble. As small businesses continue to re-open, it will be available locally at area bookstores.
“Little Piggy learns that the very thing that makes her different may be the only thing that can save her life and and reunite her with her beloved family. The message of the book is getting along with others even though they may be different than you are.” --Laurel Kuenzler