November 23, 2012

Edwarda O'Bara, in diabetic coma since 1970, dies

O’Bara was a high school student who wanted to be a pediatrician when she fell ill 42 years ago.

Diana Moskovitz / The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Edwarda O'Bara, who spent more than four decades in a coma in her Miami Gardens home, always cared for by her mother, then by her sister, and who inspired a book and garnered a devoted following across the globe, has died. She was 59.

She died Wednesday morning, her family said, five years after the death of her mother, who had remained at Edwarda's side since she slipped into a coma.

"I think my mother said, 'Come on, let's go,' " sister Colleen O'Bara said.

Edwarda O'Bara was a teenage high school student who wanted to be a pediatrician when in 1970 she fell ill, throwing up her diabetic medicine.

Her family rushed her to the hospital, where she slipped into a diabetic coma. Before losing consciousness, Edwarda asked her mother, Kaye O'Bara, to never leave her side.

Kaye O'Bara promised, and kept her word.

Edwarda returned to the family's Miami Gardens home, and her family never left her side. She was turned every two hours to keep away bedsores, given insulin and fed through a tube.

She was read to, had music played for her, and constantly had company.

Her father, Joe O'Bara, died in 1976. After his death, Kaye O'Bara continued to care for Edwarda, always saying she was a blessing, not a burden, no matter the piling debts and difficulties.

A devout Catholic, O'Bara said she had felt the presence of the Virgin Mary in Edwarda's bedroom.

It inspired author Dr. Wayne Dyer to write the book "A Promise Is A Promise: An Almost Unbelievable Story of a Mother's Unconditional Love and What It Can Teach Us."

And visitors from across the world traveled to the Miami Gardens home, every year, sometimes appearing at the doorstep on random days, other times for Edwarda's yearly birthday party, a boisterous affair with decorations, balloons and cake.

"I had to learn you let strangers in," Colleen O'Bara said, "because they aren't strangers."

Through it all, Edwarda remained in a coma. But to her family and followers she remained vibrantly alive. Colleen O'Bara described her as "the best sister in the whole wide world."

"She taught me so much, and I'm talking about now, after she was in the coma," Colleen O'Bara said. "She taught me so much about unconditional love that I couldn't say I had it before. She taught me about patience, that I didn't have before. I learned so much from taking care of my sister. It's like I grew up overnight."

Her mother kept her promise, right up to her death in 2008. Kaye O'Bara, 80, died in her sleep, in the same room she had shared with Edwarda since 1970.

Afterward, Colleen took over, quitting her job as a horse trainer.

"I didn't give it a second thought. She's my sister," Colleen O'Bara said, "and I love her."

Tuesday night, Colleen O'Bara said she noticed her sister was spitting up food and figured it was because of the change in the weather, which usually gives Edwarda a cold. Colleen gave her antibiotics, and had her son care for Edwarda while she got some rest.

Edwarda seemed a bit better in the morning. It started with 6 a.m. breakfast and Edwarda's bath a half hour later.

"I said, OK, this is gonna be a good day. Things are looking up," Colleen O'Bara said. "Her color is coming back. I'm talking to her. I give her a bath, turn her, brush her teeth, put Vaseline on her lips so they don't dry out."

She told her sister she was going to get a cup of coffee and be right back.

Edwarda responded with the biggest smile, Colleen O'Bara said. She had a twinkle in her eyes, then closed them. Her breathing relaxed.

Colleen got her coffee, came back to the room and gave her sister a shake, but Edwarda didn't wake up.

Edwarda O'Bara is survived by her sister, nephew Richard O'Bara and great-nephew Joseph Michael O'Bara, who all stayed with her in the home.

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