The Real Donny

Grandma Cathy’s story about how she got to know about Down Syndrome.

I was 14 years old in 1955 when my brother Donny was born. Yes, there is a real Donny!

My dad took me out to lunch the day after his birth to tell me that I had a new baby brother, and that the doctors said he had Down Syndrome.  I had never heard of Down Syndrome and asked my dad what that meant.  He said that Donny would have some special problems, that he might not live very long, and that if he did live, his life would be different from the lives of my sister, my brother, and me. He said the doctors said he would never be normal, go to normal schools like other kids and might never learn how to walk, talk, read, use the bathroom or otherwise have a “normal” life.  With tears in his eyes, he said that the doctors recommended that he and my mother put Donny into an institution or special home for what was left of his life. 

By then we were both crying.  My father hugged me, and said the most surprising thing of all – he and my mother had decided they would keep Donny at home, and that we would love him and help him learn everything he could.  I smiled then, and said we would all help Donny have a good life, whatever that meant.

That day was the start of a marvelous adventure, where Donny changed our lives for the better, and taught us that all human life is special and offers special benefits.  Donny was fortunate to be born at a time when medical science was doing miraculous things with miraculous drugs.  Donny lived until he was 53 years old, learned to walk, talk, read, sign greeting cards, use the bathroom, play the church’s organ – with foot pedals—and fell in love with American history.  By the time he was ten, he could name all the Presidents, their wives, where they were born and where they were buried. 

Donny loved life, his family, his series of dogs.  Every morning when he woke up, he would shout, “Today is the best day of my life.” The dedication of the first book reads: “To Donny – your life made our lives better.”