The Racine Journal-Times Sunday Bulletin from Racine, Wisconsin on July 19, 1959 · Page 47
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July 19, 1959

The Racine Journal-Times Sunday Bulletin from Racine, Wisconsin · Page 47

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Racine, Wisconsin
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Sunday, July 19, 1959
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Page 47
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Page 47 article text (OCR)

I The tripleh leartwd to spMk by placing their hands on Mrs. Petroglia't mouth and "feeling" words, then touching their own mouths. Ironically, the concentrated flow of oxygen into the incubator, which helped save their lives shortly after birth, also caused the injuries that doomed them to permanent darkness. Thousands of premature babies had been blinded in the same manner. To add to the irony of our own tragedy, medical research turned up the cause of the blindness just weeks after our triplets were born. It was a tremendous step forward but, of course, it was too late for our babies. A PPROPRIATELY enough, it was Mother's Day,'1954, when my babies, Donna Lee, Gail Ann, and Steven, were permitted to come home. We brought them into a second-floor, five-room apartment in a crowded Bronx, N. Y., housing project. Without a yard or play area, it was hardly an ideal home for three infants requiring constant attention. But the $54 rent was an important consideration, since Frank's salary as a restaurant worker was only $80 a week plus tips. While three babies would be challenge enough for the most capable mother, raising three blind babies was a frightening prospect. What mother is equipped for this? After 15 months, the babies had made only slight physical progress. Their heads rolled from side to side, they couldn't use their hands and, having been confined to hospital cribs for so long, they didn't like to be touched or held. In their strange new environment, Steven and Gail soon took to tantrums. Steven would bang his head severely on the bedpost, and the resultant cuts and bruises only added to his frustration. Gail pulled out her hair until she was completely bald. . More than 85 percent of an infant's learning is based on sight. We found out that simple things like chewing solid foods also fell into the category of visual imitation and was not a natural instinct. To teach the triplets to chew, we had to manipulate their jaws with our hands. To encourage them to talk, we placed their hands on our mouths so they could feel where the sounds came from, and then put their hands on their own mouths. One of the most diflicult problems was teaching them to walk. They dragged themselves along on their buttocks until they were 3 years old, even though we tried every conceivable means of encouraging them to step out. We massaged their legs to strengthen the unused muscles, put bells on their shoes, played games and made up songs, but nothing seemed to work. Often Frank and I would wind up a long evening of training by crying on each other's shoulder. But we'd be back trying again the next day. When little Stevie finally took his first steps I almost became hysterical with joy. We leaned heavily on prayer during this criti­ cal period, and we showered all the love that was within us on our babies. Before long, they responded afTectionately, too, and began to like sitting on a lap or being cuddled. It was then that our work began to bear fruit. While the triplets' first steps were a thrill, this development also brought about another problem. Now we had to cope with the hazards of our apartment—metal door jambs, doors that opened in, sharp-edged furniture—to prote«^t the babies from serious injury as they toddled about. Frank and I tried walking through the apartment with our eyes shut to understand the difll- culties the triplets would encounter. We then made the apartment as safe as possible, but still there were daily bumps, bruises, and cuts. Visiting relatives and friends were inclined to rush to the triplets' aid in almost any difTicult situation. We promptly discouraged this, explaining that the children had to help themselves as much as possible in conquering the darkness. I'm sure they thought us very cruel at the time. O NCE THE CHiuiREN learned to walk, we enrolled them at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. This was a bold undertaking, since the children had never been beyond the sound of my voice and we didn't know how they would respond under another's supervision. As a fContinued on page 9) FaiNilv Wwfclv. July IS. l»Sf 1

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