Reflecting on World Down Syndrome Day

Pause for a minute, if you would, and ponder what would qualify as the most meaningful moment of your life. For many, it would be becoming a parent for the first time. For others, it might be the first taste of victory, from being the last one standing in a grade-school spelling bee to catching a game-winning touchdown pass. For lots of folks, it could be experiencing true love for the first time.

For author Cathy Pepe, it was undoubtedly the day in 1955 that she learned about the birth of her new brother, Donny.

When her father took her to lunch to explain that the baby had Down syndrome, she was told that his life would likely be filled with special problems and challenges, far different than the ones experienced by Cathy (who was 14 at the time), her other siblings and their friends. Doctors suggested that Donny be placed in an institution because he would never be able to have a “normal” life but Cathy’s parents resisted and made the decision that he would be coming home to be a member of the family.

That day – and her parents’ decision – changed Cathy’s life in the most meaningful way imaginable. Donny enhanced their lives and repeatedly taught them lessons about themselves, society and Down syndrome for nearly five-and-a-half decades. He lived until he was 53 and surpassed expectation after expectation, learning to walk, talk, read and so much more, including playing his church’s organ and immersing himself in American history.

Donny’s arrival marked the start of a marvelous adventure for the entire family. His impact lives on today as an inspiration for Cathy’s Grandma Gang children’s book series. In the Grandma Gang mysteries, Grandma Cathy teams with her grandchildren, Donny and Mary Grace, to try to solve whodunit crimes and capers. Like the real Donny, the Grandma Gang Donny has Down syndrome, which provides him a unique perspective that complements their collective amateur detective skills.

Today (March 21), on World Down Syndrome Day, we laud the likes of Donny and his literary character. This commemorative day shines light on those living with the naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement and asks for all of us to do our part to advocate for full inclusion in society for people with Down syndrome. Visit for more information on how you can serve as an advocate for their rights. One fun way to support is by becoming a reader of the Grandma Gang mysteries. Cathy donates 10% of all net proceeds from sales of the books to the Special Olympics. For more information about ways to support the Down syndrome community, visit

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