In this biography, a woman lives a remarkably independent, productive, and loving life despite a grim medical diagnosis as an infant.
Jonathan Schlesinger and Angelia Edmonton met in 1951 Atlanta, fell deeply in love, and got married. They moved to Philadelphia, where their first child, Joanna, was born in 1954, a month prematurely, weighing in at a mere five pounds. Her parents noticed that one of her eyes sometimes moved in an unusual way, so they shared their concerns with a doctor, who told them that Joanna suffered from irreversible brain damage due to oxygen deprivation. As a result, she experienced seizures and would need to take medication to control them. However, the drug put her in a fuguelike state, and she moved through life as if it was a slow-motion dream. When she turned 5, her parents decided that she needed a level of care that they were ill-prepared to provide, so they brought her to a home outside Philadelphia for mentally impaired children, run by the Sisters’ Order of Saint Mary’s of Providence. She lived there for the next three years, and after she stopped her regimen of medication, she began to live a life that approached normalcy. Then she was moved to the GlenEagles Institute, where her improvement continued to defy expectations. She was athletically active and eventually became a Girl Scout. Finally, she became one of six people chosen to participate in a special university-led program designed to prepare them for the workforce, and she specifically trained to work as a dental assistant. She demonstrated impressive competence and responsibility, forged meaningful relationships, and led a strikingly independent life. Author Slaughter conducted years of meticulous research on Joanna and her family members, including interviews, and his thoroughness shows; in fewer than 100 pages, he paints a full, vivid picture of Joanna’s journey. The story particularly comes alive when he focuses on the nonmedical aspects of her struggle: her openness to love, her fierce sense of self-reliance, and her growing religious faith. The prose is straightforward and unadorned, which allows Joanna’s story to take center stage rather than compete with literary embellishments. This is a poignant, affecting history that will surely inspire readers confronting medical limitations or those who love someone struggling to overcome disability.
A short but powerful amalgam of journalistic rigor and emotional sensitivity.