Millions of readers read about the Killilea family of Westchester, New York, a loving Catholic family inspired by their daughter Karen who was born with cerebral palsy. Karen was several months premature and weighed under two pounds, so no one thought she would survive but her parents were determined to get their child the medical care she needed. They fought ferociously for medical care and to have her lead a normal life despite her disability.One of my Betsy-Tacy friends just forwarded me the news that Karen died on October 30, 2020 at 80 years old. I remember reading Karen (1952), written by her mother Marie, and being chilled by Marie’s description of one doctor who told her in China they would leave a child like this on a mountain top to die. Marie and James Killilea refused to listen. They felt their child had an indomitable will to live that kept her alive and thriving as an infant, as they took her from doctor to doctor until they found someone who believed in their daughter.Karen, a very moving book that became a best seller in 1952, detailed Karen’s struggle to overcome the limitations of her cerebral palsy and her family's fight to help her lead a satisfying life. Karen’s family spent two hours per day for more than 10 years doing physical therapy with her, and Karen learned how to walk with crutches, write, swim and move her legs and arms. The book won a Christopher Award, which goes to media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”
With the proceeds, the family was able to purchase a larger home in Larchmont, New York, where they lived next door to another prominent Catholic couple, Jean (Please Don’t Eat the Daisies) and theater critic Walter Kerr. Marie later wrote With Love from Karen (1963) and a children’s version of Karen that was called Wren (1954), which my middle sister got for Christmas that year.Does anyone remember these books? Maybe you only read them if you went to Catholic school like me but I am told there is a Facebook group of fans.