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Karen Killilea, 80, Dies; Turned Disability Into Triumph

Karen Killilea, 80, Dies; Turned Disability Into Triumph
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Karen Killilea, 80, Dies; Turned Disability Into Triumph

Karen Killilea, 80, Dies; Turned Incapacity Into Triumph

When Karen Killilea was born in 1940, she was three months untimely and weighed lower than two kilos. She spent her first 9 months in a neonatal intensive care unit.

When she lastly returned to the household residence in Rye, N.Y., her dad and mom observed that her limbs had been particularly stiff, she by no means rolled over in her crib and he or she didn’t attain for toys that had been dangled in entrance of her. Infants born so early hardly ever survived in these days. The docs instructed Karen’s dad and mom to institutionalize her and get on with their lives.

That was the very last thing that James and Marie Killilea (pronounced KILL-ill-ee) would do. Removed from forgetting about Karen, they scoured america and Canada for medical specialists who might assist her. They noticed greater than 20, all of whom mentioned that Karen’s case was hopeless. One instructed them that in China, a toddler like Karen can be left on a mountaintop to die.

They lastly discovered a health care provider in Baltimore who acknowledged Karen’s intelligence, noticed that she was conscious of her environment and decided that she had cerebral palsy. With tireless dedication, her household spent no less than two hours daily for the following 10 years serving to Karen transfer her limbs forwards and backwards, and ultimately she triumphed over her prognosis.

By her early teenage years, she was strolling with crutches, swimming, typing and going to highschool.

And he or she lived to be 80.

She died on Oct. 30 in Port Chester, N.Y., in Westchester County, simply north of New York Metropolis. Her sister Kristin Viltz mentioned the trigger was a respiratory situation that led to coronary heart failure.

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Marie Killilea instructed the world about her daughter in two best-selling books, which had been among the many first to explain intimately the challenges of dwelling with a extreme bodily incapacity and had been an inspiration to many households in related circumstances.

The primary, “Karen” (1952), confirmed how she and her household had labored to beat the chances towards her.

Among the many glowing evaluations for “Karen,” which was translated into a number of languages, was this from Saturday Evaluate: “Extraordinary is the phrase for use first, final and repeatedly about this guide. Anybody who meets Karen, even on paper, will postpone resigning from the human race.”

The sequel, “With Love From Karen” (1963), adopted Karen into younger maturity. Marie Killilea additionally wrote “Wren” (1981), a model of “Karen” for kids.

Karen Killilea labored for 4 many years because the receptionist on the Trinity Retreat Home in Larchmont, N.Y. She traveled to Italy twice, assembly semi-privately each instances with Pope Paul VI.

She was decided to indicate that her incapacity had not restricted her. Among the many actions she pursued was conducting obedience coaching for canine. She had a particular affection for Newfoundlands, which had been a lot bigger than Karen, who was barely 4 ft tall and weighed solely 65 kilos.

“She was probably the most fiercely impartial individual you might think about,” Ms. Viltz, her sister, mentioned in a telephone interview.

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She by no means thought of herself “handicapped,” her sister mentioned, as a substitute calling herself “completely inconvenienced.”

Karen Ann Killilea was born on Aug. 18, 1940, in Rye. Her father was an govt with the New York Phone Firm; her mom was a homemaker.

Karen attended the Academy of Our Woman of Good Counsel Elementary College in close by White Plains. With the help of her older sister, Marie, who was just a few grades forward of her on the identical faculty, Karen earned good marks and graduated from the eighth grade in 1959. She attended the academy’s highschool partway by the tenth grade however stopped after Marie left for school.

“Karen was a legend,” mentioned Sister Laura Donovan, a former principal of the highschool, who was additionally a scholar there, just a few years behind Karen.

“The way in which I heard it, this younger girl had nice braveness and willpower,” Sister Laura mentioned in a telephone interview. “She got here to a non-handicap-accessible faculty, and I by no means heard anybody say she ever needed particular therapy.”

As Karen’s dad and mom started lobbying in Albany for the rights of the disabled, they met many different dad and mom of kids with disabilities who had been determined for info and desperate to share their very own experiences. This led to the formation of what’s now known as Cerebral Palsy of Westchester. Marie Killilea later based, with different dad and mom and volunteers, the group that grew to become often called the United Cerebral Palsy Affiliation.

By the point her dad and mom died (her mom in 1991, her father in 1994), Ms. Killilea was dwelling independently, first in a rental house in New Rochelle after which in a condominium she purchased in Larchmont.

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Along with her sisters, Kristin Viltz and Marie Killilea Irish, her survivors embody a brother, Rory Killilea.

After the books appeared, Karen and Marie Killilea had been inundated with mail from everywhere in the world and answered no less than 15,000 letters. Some had been addressed merely to “Karen, U.S.A.,” and nonetheless arrived.

Many wrote to thank the household for telling their story and to say that it had impressed them to turn out to be nurses, or bodily or occupational therapists. Some readers even appeared on the household’s entrance porch, so keen had been they to fulfill this “miracle baby,” as her mom known as her, and inform of their very own conditions.

In later years, readers joined on-line discussions about her. Many, noting that the guide “Karen” was about Karen and never by her, longed to listen to her personal account in her personal voice.

However she valued her privateness deeply and by no means gave interviews or wrote her personal guide. She turned down virtually all invites to talk, together with one from her old-fashioned to deal with the scholars, Sister Laura mentioned.

Nonetheless, her voice emerged to some extent in her mom’s second guide. After Karen had skilled the liberty that got here with utilizing a wheelchair and determined she most popular it to hobbling round on crutches, which she discovered to be painful, her mom quoted her as saying:

“No extra will I be a colorless, sluggish little sparrow that hops round together with his head down. I’ll be free, actually free. I’ll be an eagle with my face to the solar.”

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