Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Birthday celebration plans for world’s longest-surviving coma patient

Colleen O’Bara will soon start writing thousands of invitations for her sister’s 56th birthday party.

Last year, it took her weeks to post 3,000 letters. This time she is likely to send 4,000.

But her older sister, Edwarda, is no A-list star, religious guru or world leader. The reason she attracts huge crowds to her birthday bashes is far from glamorous.

Edwarda O’Bara is the world’s longest-surviving coma patient.

And each year she grows older and greyer, her list of “fans” gets longer.

Without lifting a finger, Florida’s “sleeping Snow White” has drawn hordes of birthday well-wishers from Europe, Japan and Africa.

Colleen, 53, said: “The people we invite have given donations, helped us and feel inspired by our story.

“Edwarda does not turn 56 until next March. But this year I’m starting writing to our supporters early.”

The story of Colleen’s devotion starts 39 years ago.

Edwarda, who suffered from diabetes, was rushed to hospital in the early hours of January 3, 1970.

She had woken up shaking, scared and in agony — suffering a horrific adverse reaction to medicine prescribed for her condition.

As she slipped in and out of consciousness, she clasped her mum’s hand and begged: “Promise me you won’t leave me, will you, Mommy?”

Her tearful mother cradled her, stroked back her hair and replied: “Of course not. I would never leave you, darling.” Edwarda’s petrified plea was the last sentence she spoke.

Seconds later, her heart stopped beating long enough to damage her brain and she was plunged into a deep sleep.

Thirty-nine years on, Edwarda is still lost in a wretched twilight.

When she was struck down — aged just 16 — the Vietnam war was raging, Richard Nixon was president and Watergate was just a nice place to stay.

She’s now a middle-aged woman.

Edwarda’s long blonde locks have turned grey and her smooth skin is wrinkled. Lying at home in Miami, she has no idea her parents have died.

She has never heard of Barack Obama, 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afgha-nistan or realised she has lived under eight different presidents.

But although doctors have said she will never wake, her devoted sister Colleen is determined to keep celebrating her birthdays and hang on to hope.

It used to be Colleen’s mother who prayed for the miracle that Edwarda would wa-ke from her perpetual sleep.

For 38 years, Kaye O’Bara nur-sed her daughter. Each night, she planted a kiss on her daughter’s forehead that — just like in the fairy tale — she hoped would wake her “sleeping beauty”.

But she died last year aged 80 in the room she shared with her daughter. Now it is Colleen who turns Edwarda side to side a dozen times a day to prevent bedsores.

She mixes baby food, milk, eggs, orange juice, Mazola oil, brewer's yeast and a piece of white bread into a blender and then a wire mesh strainer, pouring the concoction into Edwarda's feeding tube every two hours, day and night.

She suctions mucus from Edwarda's throat, whispers endearments in her ear and braids her long gray hair.

“I am with her round the clock, from 5.30am,” exhausted Colleen said. “Though she feels heavy when I move her, I am proud she has never had a bed sore.”

At night Colleen sleeps in a bed by her sister, as her mother did for 38 years, and always keeps a bedside lamp on so Edwarda is never in the dark.

“I don't know how my mom could do it for so long,” she says. “But when you have to do something you do it.”

The sacrifice has cost Colleen more than time and patience.

It is £1,000 a week for Edwarda’s food, medicine and care, and £9,000 for a generator for when the power goes out — otherwise Colleen would not be able to suction her sister.

Colleen used to train horses but “when mom passed away I had to give that up” she says.

“I have no income now,” battling Colleen added.

Today, the family receives only £275 a month social security benefit and some medicine.

Colleen's battle mirrors that of her parents Kaye and Joe. They once had seven mortgages on their house.

Joe died of a heart attack in 1977, buckling under the strain.

But none of the hardship will stop Colleen from having a 56th party for her sister on March 29.

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