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  ABC’s to multiple degrees: Patti Lemen beat the odds  
  Kansas City, MO    
May 1, 2009

Avila University graduate student Patti Lemen has recovered from a traumatic accident, living on to receive her Master of Science in Organizational Development (MSOD).

On July 2, 1994, at age 27, Lemen, of Blue Springs, was involved in a devastating car accident that resulted in a neck fracture, multiple leg injuries and severe head trauma. She injured the cognitive part of her brain, making her forget simple things like her children’s birthdays, rooms in her house, numbers and letters. At age 27, Lemen had lost her ability to read.

“It took me seven years to relearn the alphabet,” Lemen said. “I used to joke that if I ever got pulled over, I could never pass a DUI test. It was the order sequence that I couldn’t remember.”

After nine years, including three years of Hooked on Phonics, Lemen taught herself how to read again, but her future was still unclear. With two kids in high school, Lemen said she wanted to show them that education was crucial. She decided to enroll in classes at Blue River Community College.

“I didn’t have enough time to be nervous,” Lemen said with a smile, “until I walked into my first class and the kids all looked like they were 12. They all encouraged me and told me that the fact I was there was accomplishment enough.”

Going to class wasn’t all that she accomplished. She graduated from Blue River with a 4.0 GPA. From there, she continued her education at the University of Central Missouri, keeping her perfect 4.0 and earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

“After my accident I realized that I wanted to know what made other people tick,” Lemen explained about her choice of psychology. “I was treated so differently afterwards. It’s not often that a caregiver has been a patient. I was in a wheelchair, I had seizures–I know. I remember not being touched by anyone for an entire day. I felt like something was wrong with me. I just felt like upholstery on a bed.”

Her ability to empathize led her to look for an MSOD program. Friend Laura Kennedy showed Lemen Avila’s program and introduced her to Assistant Dean of the School of Professional Studies Lacey Smith.

“Lacey held on and didn’t let go,” Lemen said. “Lacey believed in me long before I believed in myself, and she’s that way with everyone. I never felt like I had to prove myself, and that’s why I chose Avila.”

“Patti Lemen. Just the name brings a big smile to your face if you have ever had the pleasure of being in her presence,” Smith said. “Most people don’t know what Patti has overcome in her life, but they do know there is something special about her.  Her energy is contagious, her drive is relentless and her compassion for fellow human beings is unmatched.”  

Lemen began attending MSOD courses while finishing up her bachelor’s degree. Lemen was completing 19 course hours at UCM, nine course hours at Avila and was working full time.

“I didn’t have a choice. It was like a tidal wave – go with it or drown,” Lemen said. “I love to be busy, and chaos doesn’t really bother me. I’ve had to start over and I don’t want to slow down.”

Lemen is now the project coordinator for Rainbow Options, a day habilitation and day care for adults with disabilities over age 21.

“I love what I do,” Lemen said. “I love to work with, serve and meet the needs of people. At Rainbow Options, we have a spirit of gentleness; it’s all about tenderness. I’m unique because I can empathize with them.”

Lemen will graduate in May and plans to work towards her doctorate. Throughout her challenges and struggles, Lemen said she has very few regrets.

“I regret being 42 and just now finishing, but it’s better than finishing at 52,” Lemen said. “The thing I regret the most is that my kids bore the brunt of the stress. Because of my accident, I stole away their childhood.”

Lemen said that her daughter, Kayce, 22, and son, Steven, 21, are her motivation. She said that they acted like the parents when she was acting like a child. She said they grew up together.

“My kids are my inspiration,” Lemen said. “I’ve worked hard because I want my kids to know that I will always be there for them.”

With every day a challenge, Lemen said her worst struggle is distinguishing between what she actually remembers and what she has been told so many times that she feels like she remembers. She said

Kayce and Steven have helped her to fill in the gaps and encouraged her through the process, from learning to read to receiving her master’s degree.

“All I know is that if my kids didn’t have faith in me, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this.”


Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.