Benefit walk honors memory

by Symptom Advice on January 14, 2012

By JENNIFER SHEACorrespondent Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 10:39 a.m. Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 10:39 a.m. Facts INTERESTED?

For information or to make a donation to Jena Ashley Smiles 929, contact mark Hellman at 924-2519. Race donation $20 for adults, $10 for those younger than 12. Register for the Jena walk/run at or email Mindy Hellman at .

After an extended illness, Leblang, 26 years old, took her life. the first Race for Jena — a benefit to raise funds for the community and Chronic Neuroendocrine Immune illnesses — will take place Saturday at Pine View School. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m.

The Pine View graduate was well known in Osprey, Venice and Sarasota; a member of the National Honor Society, Teen Court Program, National Merit finalist, AP Scholar, Peer Mentor and a Kodak Young Leader award winner. Leblang graduated from Pine View, Tulane University and earned her Juris Doctorate at George Washington University Law School.

Leblang also tended children; her childhood neighbor, Susan Ellis, remembers her fondly.

“She was so special,” Ellis said. “She was mature and kind and very smart. She was an amazing young woman and I will always remember her.”

Ellis said that Leblang set a “sticker rewards system” when she babysat Ellis’ three children. now an elementary school teacher, Ellis said that she has incorporated Leblang’s sticker system in her classroom.

According to her mother, Mindy Hellman, Leblang never truly recovered from an emergency appendectomy. “She never really completely healed.”

Then, more than three years after the surgery, Leblang may have been bitten by a spider or a tick, which, Hellman said, triggered a dormant immune system issue.

Hellman added that she will never know the exact cause of her daughter’s illness, but after the bite Leblang developed persistent pain and fatigue symptoms that plagued her until she could no longer endure.

“She was so exhausted she couldn’t lift her head off the pillow,” Hellman said, weeping.

Mark Hellman, Leblang’s father, said that throughout her illness his daughter was so diligent that she continued to practice law through her exhaustion.

“She was dizzy and nauseous, her body ached all the time and her job was so stressful, but she was so conscientious,” he said.

To honor Leblang, Pine View friends Skylar Zwick and Virginia Pham joined with her Tulane and GW law school friends Samanatha Loss and Reena Dutta, her parents and her husband, Jay Leblang, to organize the Jena Ashley Smiles 929 Foundation, a nonprofit to raise money for community projects, awareness, education and research funds for Chronic Lyme and Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome.

The run will be the first local event for the nonprofit. “There are zero administrative costs,” mark Hellman emphasized. A celebration with music, food, a raffle, prizes and awards for runners will commence at Pine View after the race.

Leblang was an only child, and her death has been devastating to her parents.

“Our whole reason for doing this,” Mindy Hellman said softly, “is because I don’t want this to happen to anybody else.”

“We knew that Jena didn’t feel well, but she was a perfectionist,” mark Hellman said, “an overachiever who didn’t have a big ego, she just wanted to help other people.”

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