Healthy Living

“There Are No Alligators in Heaven!” Scores 4-star Review from Portland Books

There Are No Alligators in Heaven! is a book by Donna Codell, Evan Codell, and their daughter, Jennifer Hale. It was published by Starshine Galaxy Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to publishing stories by and about children who have passed away.

Portland Book Review (PBR) gave a 4-star review to There Are No Alligators in Heaven!, which depicts a family’s perceptions on coping with the relentlessness of cystic fibrosis. Editor-in-Chief of PBR, Whitney Smyth, calls the book “inspiring”. She identifies the story of Jennifer Hale, the protagonist diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 2 in 1974, to be one of bravery, optimism, and hope.

Sharing Jennifer’s story

Jennifer’s mother and father, Donna and Evan Codell, started a fundraiser back in September 2016 to raise funds for their daughter’s story. Jennifer passed away on December 12th 2015 while waiting for a double lung transplant. Her parents reveal that although she needed the transplant to extend her life, she strived to enjoy every day to the fullest. Jennifer lived bravely and passionately in the face of her illness, all the while offering hope and inspiration to others along the way. With the publication of a book, Donna and Evan intended to pay tribute to their daughter’s life journey. They intended to help other individuals facing terminal illnesses and their families find the courage to live life to the fullest and never give up. With the publication of There Are No Alligators in Heaven!, they did just that.

There Are No Alligators in Heaven! is a biography told through Jennifer’s writings, as well as a detailed number of interviews with her parents. “This is a book that manages to be many things: a heartfelt biography, a record of cystic fibrosis treatments over the last few decades, a self-help parenting guide to parents of children with cystic fibrosis, and most importantly, a celebration of life,” as stated by Smyth in the PBR review. Jennifer’s parents, lead readers through Jennifer’s whole life, from her birth to her death. They depict a portrayal of a normal family, refusing to leave out their personality clashes, as well as the challenges and dark times that they faced. By including the not-so-happy family life that Evan had experienced growing up and Donna’s panic attacks, the book makes their characters and lives relatable to the readers. “Mechanically speaking the book is easy to read. The sections taken from writings are easily discerned from the verbal interview between Donna and Evan, and the book is divided into clear sections that are easy to navigate. The last third of the book includes Jennifer’s articles that were originally published by the CF Roundtable and give a chance for readers to really read about Jennifer’s experience with cystic fibrosis in her own words,” stated Smyth.

Her father shares similar struggles

There Are No Alligators in Heaven! also addresses the illness of Evan Codell, Jennifer’s father and co-author of the book. Evan had been battling stage 4 lung cancer since his diagnosis in 2012. In an ironic twist of fate, he experienced first-hand the challenges of having an illness and what his own daughter was going through. It was then that he realized how brave and courageous Jennifer truly was. During the book’s development, his health was deteriorating and on Wednesday, December 14th 2016, Evan passed away. The loss led reviewer Smyth to conclude – “This is not a biography with a happy ending, but even so, it is one that manages to be inspiring and is well worth the read.”

Jennifer’s mother and Evan’s wife, Donna Codell, is the surviving author. She was born and raised in the Chicagoland area and she attended Southern Illinois University. It was there that she met her husband, Evan Michael. The two married in 1969, and in 1972, they welcomed a baby girl, Jennifer. At the age of two and a half, when Jennifer was diagnosed with CF, both Donna and Evan dedicated their lives to helping Jennifer fight the effects of her disease. Back in those days, the average life expectancy for children with CF was 15 years. Before Jennifer was diagnosed, Donna worked in a physician’s group practice, where she began to educate herself on the importance of proper nutrition. She became a firm believer that proper nutrition and an active lifestyle is the key to maintaining good health. As Jennifer was approaching her 40th birthday, Donna felt she had a winning formula. Even when her husband was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in March of 2012, the doctors gave him six months; however, with proper nutrition and regular exercise, he was able to extend his life to nearly 5 years, before passing away in December of 2016.

Donna’s dedication toward healthy living

Since her husband and daughter’s passing, Donna has been educating and supporting others on their journeys toward a healthy lifestyle. Since the year 2003, she has been an active advocator of Juice Plus+, which is an all-natural nutritional supplement that delivers results, including boosting one’s energy levels and strengthening the body’s immune system. Donna hopes that There Are No Alligators in Heaven! will allow others to get to know her daughter as “someone that you’d love to be around” and it will help by offering strength, positive thinking, physical resilience, and hope in times of harsh reality.

There Are No Alligators in Heaven! inspires readers to find joy in their lives and never give up fighting, no matter what type of battle they are dealing with. It is a roller coaster ride that deals with a family’s health challenges and brings forth a message of faith, love, hope, gratitude, wisdom, as well as the impact of good nutrition and self-care. There are words of wisdom that can be read throughout the book, but one of the most powerful messages is written by Jennifer Hale - “Be the light that stays on even in the darkest of moments. Keep fighting your battle with a light heart, a smile on your face, and a spark in your eye. This will feed your soul and spirit and give you strength to battle on”.