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Friends gather to pray for, support stricken Gainesville woman
Former GHS cheer captain, current UNG student hospitalized at Emory after heart attack, head injury
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Joel May, from left, plays guitar Saturday as prayer circle organizers Natasha Cockfield and Anna Katharine Yarger hold the microphone and music in front of The Rock on Pearl Nix Parkway. About 50 friends of local heart patient LeeAnn Noble attended to pray for the 20-year-old, who is hospitalized after suffering cardiac arrest and subsequent head injury last week. - photo by NAT GURLEY

LeeAnn Noble has endured life changing medical problems in the past; she received a heart transplant in 2006 after being diagnosed with heart disease at age 12.

The 20-year-old University of North Georgia student and Gainesville High School graduate again faces an uncertain future after suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Friends of Noble gathered for a prayer circle Saturday at The Rock across from Gainesville High School on Pearl Nix Parkway.

“This is for the community to come together and show their love and support for her,” said Natasha Cockfield, one of the event’s organizers.

Noble was airlifted to Emory University Hospital on Jan. 19 after going into cardiac arrest and suffering a head injury in the incident.

Doctors were able to stabilize her, but confirmed that severe swelling had left her brain seriously damaged.

Organizers recorded Saturday’s event to send to Noble’s family as they keep tabs on her progress in the intensive care unit.

Noble’s long term prognosis and the extent of the injury’s affect on her life is shrouded by the uncertainty — and slow progress — of brain injury recuperation.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty but we will have to take it day by day and concentrate on celebrating each of her accomplishments,” her mother, Carol Ann Gelderman, said in a Facebook update on Thursday.

In that spirit of celebration, Noble’s friends created an atmosphere of joy and smiles, even if it took a bit of prodding at times.

The organizers prompted laughter when they politely requested participants clap if they didn’t know words to uplifting hymns.

The Rev. David Burchett, director of Student Ministries at Gainesville First United Methodist Church, led a unique prayer where a friend the same age as Noble, Hunter Lane, served as her stand-in.

“I call it a concert of prayer, and it’s a bunch of voices praying, raising their voices up to God at the same time,” he said.

Friends came together in a tight circle to rest their hands on Lane as Burchett led the prayer.

Noble received a heart transplant in 2006. Her teacher and cheer coach Helen Perry said the highly-involved student never let it show her health had ever been compromised.

“She just lived life to the fullest as much as anyone I know,” she said.

The Rock was an appropriate venue to support the woman whom high school friends called “Queen of the Rock” in her cheerleading captain days because of her enthusiasm in painting The Rock on football weeks.

Noble remained a highly involved student-athlete into college. The nursing student is a member of the golf team, the sorority Sigma Kappa and a dean’s list honoree, all while working two jobs.

The prayer circle was a sort of mini-class reunion for 2011 graduates of Gainesville High School. A few dozen students came from all over the state and country to come together in thought for Noble.

“This brings everybody back together, lets us know that there’s a higher calling. There’s a deeper meaning to it,” said Noble’s former classmate Markece Robertson.

Fellow GHS alumnus Joel May said even for those who may not be religious, the event was a chance to express an appreciation for a “kind,” “encouraging” and “sweet” woman.

“I think it’s a good symbol for the unity of mind and the ties that bring people together, even if people weren’t here for the prayer aspect,” May said. “They came to support a girl that they loved and a girl that’s always loved them.”

“LeeAnn was always very sweet, very kind, very encouraging. We’re just trying to give back a little bit of the kindness and everything that she showed to us.”

Even as friends and family hope for the best outcome, her recovery will be a certain future of rehabilitation and doctors visits. Friends set up a fund to help alleviate the strain of medical bills and loss of work time that Noble’s family is facing.

Donations can be made at As of Saturday, more than $5,000 had been raised toward a goal of $7,000.