LAKE WORTH — On Christmas Eve, Leah "Mama" Gizzi and her husband, John Storch, were where they always are — Mama Gizzi's Gourmet Pasta, a wholesale pasta shop they own on North Dixie Highway.

They were getting ready to go to a Christmas party around 5 p.m. when they got a call from The Breakers Palm Beach, one of their top clients, who needed 80 pounds of lasagna sheets for an event. After picking up some supplies, Storch quickly came back to the shop.

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When Storch, 57, returned, his world changed.

"Leah's clothing got a caught in the pasta extruder while it was mixing flour and water," Storch said. "It was a nightmare, to say the least."

There was blood everywhere. One of the paddles had pierced Gizzi's arm. "We tried to free her hand and it wouldn't get free," Storch said.

Gizzi, 55, told the paramedics not to pull her right arm out of the machine to avoid a bleed-out. "They looked at each other and said, 'We don't know what to do," Gizzi said. "I said, 'I do.'"

She instructed the paramedics to carefully cut the machine. "As soon as you get my arm out, it's going to the welder because we have to make pasta for the restaurant," she said.

It took about 30 minutes to free her arm.

Gizzi, as always, didn't panic. "It didn't look good," she said, "but it didn't hurt. I don't know if it was because I was in shock."

She was taken to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach. Surgeons originally thought they would have to amputate Gizzi's arm, but they saved everything.

"Nothing was lost," a relieved Storch said.

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Gizzi had three surgeries and was in the hospital for 17 days before she was released Jan. 11. She went from working 18 hours a day to going to therapy for two hours three times a week.

"I'm healing way quicker than I anticipated," she said. "My doctor doesn't want me going back to work yet because I feel good, but not realizing the damage to my arm was really, really major and I blow everything off."

Two rods are in her arm to repair a fractured wrist. She can move her arm, but not her hand. "We don't know when I'll be able to use it," she said. "I'm going stir-crazy."

Gizzi is hoping she can go back to work in April, but if that happens, she'll have to hire somebody. Mama Gizzi only has two employees — Gizzi and Storch.

Storch, who is also in a rock band, has taken over the workload along with family and friends. "We have quite a few big accounts we can't afford to lose," he said.

The retail shop has been closed since Christmas, with Mama Gizzi just handling the wholesale business. "There has been some financial difficulties," Storch said.

Recently, Rudy's Pub in Lake Worth raised $2,500 for the couple, married for 12 years. "That was so wonderful," Storch said.

Gizzi wanted to do a buffet for the event and people thought she was a little crazy. "They're going, 'What do you mean you want to do a buffet? Leah, you have one hand!'"

She laughs. Hard.

Gizzi said her husband has been exceptional throughout the entire ordeal. "He totally took the bulls by the horns and didn't skip a beat," she said. "None of the places we worked for knew what happened for about a month."

Jim Kovalsky, 54, has known Gizzi for a few years and is rooting for her. "If you look up salt of the earth, you will find her picture," he said. "She is the one who will do anything to help anyone and she always has. She gives food to people who need food and will literally give you the shirt off her back if you needed it and wouldn't ask anything."

A second generation Italian-American (all four grandparents emigrated from Tuscany through Ellis Island in the first two decades of the 20th century), Gizzi's life has revolved around food and family. She grew up the youngest of five children, scraping plates for her family's wedding catering business outside of Boston. Her father, Tony, was a born entertainer, a short, heavy man who would come out of the kitchen to sing old Italian songs to the newly married couples. Her mother, Dolly, a tall and elegant woman she describes as a Cher look-alike, ran the front of the house while the men cooked.

Gizzi went to a culinary high school and spent most of the next 38 years in the food industry. She worked as a chef and banquet server for The Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach, where her husband, John Storch, worked in sales.

The couple started Mama Gizzi 12 years ago. It was on Jog Road for eight years and moved to Lake Worth in 2015. "I want to thank Lake Worth for their showing of love and support to us," Storch said. "It's been phenomenal and we are completely humbled and honored and grateful."

Gizzi doesn't like the kind of attention she's getting now. It has nothing to with food or pasta or her business.

"People go, 'Oh, Mama, are you OK?' she says. "I always say, 'Yeah, I'm good.'"

 

kthompson@pbpost.com

@kevindthompson1