Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Helping a Family Familiar with Loss

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Helping a Family Familiar with Loss

Article excerpt

Since she was a teenager, Leah Wack has seen her family's lives play out in the media, both in wild joy and in profound sorrow.

On Thanksgiving afternoon 1999, she and her older sister Jamie drove to a nearby supermarket to buy dinner rolls, and by the time they got back to their Troy Hill home, their mother, Carol, had given birth to twin boys of less than 3 pounds each.

Yeah, that made the news.

"My mum was holding one and had the other one wrapped up on the floor," Ms. Wack, now 32, explained to me in the dining room of her Reserve home as one of those twin brothers, now 16, walked the dog.

When those boys were only 5 years old, their mother died at 44, having suffered from diabetes and an enlarged heart. That left Leah's father, Glenn, to raise the children.

He'd die a year and a week later, drowning after saving one of his sons.

Mr. Wack and the twins, Matthew and Shawn, then 6, were with friends and two 13-year-old children fishing for minnows on a back channel of the Allegheny River beside Herrs Island. When Matthew fell and was carried away by the current, Mr. Wack and his friend, Sandra Jockel of Troy Hill, went in after him.

Mr. Wack was able to hold his son above his head as the current moved the group downriver. That enabled the boy, Matthew, to drift toward a pier and safety. But Mr. Wack and Ms. Jockel would not survive the ordeal.

Thus Leah Wack, then 22, became both sister and guardian of her young brothers. Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families workers followed her home from the hospital, and said their home with a leaking roof was unfit. The three Wacks went to live with their aunt and uncle, Ken and Linda Beeson, in Spring Garden. Stilll grieving for her father, she went to court to gain custody of her brothers.

"It was awful. I was trying to do funeral arrangements and stuck in court all day."

The custody proceedings dragged on for roughly a year and the Wacks stayed with their relatives for about a year and a half as Ms. Wack continued to work full time in office administration for a Downtown money manager. Later, the Wacks moved to a Troy Hill apartment and, in 2010, to their current home in Reserve with her fiance, Ken Tester Jr. …

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