Diana Susi

My Aunt Diana was diagnosed with haemophilus influenzae meningitis in 1955 when she was six months old. My grandmother took her to four different doctors and they all turned her away saying that my Aunt Diana was fine and just experiencing the flu. But, my grandmother knew there was something very wrong. My grandparents then took my Aunt Diana to see a fifth doctor who diagnosed her with bacterial meningitis.

Due to the unfortunate progress of the disease, there was nothing the doctors could have done. If the disease had been caught earlier she could have been treated with a common antibiotic that had been around since WWI. The doctors informed my grandparents that my Aunt Diana would have to be hospitalized with possibly a year to live. My grandfather took his daughter out of the hospital bed wrapped in her blanket and walked out with her in his arms.

The doctors and the nurses attempted to stop him, telling him that he could not take her. My grandfather simply stated that she is his daughter would not spend her life there and he is taking her home. My Aunt Diana went home that day lived to be 21 years old. My aunt was never on antibiotics, medication, nor was she ever hospitalized. My grandparents and family gave my aunt love, the strongest drug in the world. There is not a treatment plan in this world that has been successful without love and support from family and friends.

Aunt Diana lived a very meaningful and purposeful life despite her physical circumstances. Although, she was never able to speak, grow, or walk, she grew to the size of a small child and stopped, the only constant growth was her beautiful dark hair. Her legs were in an awkward curved position, parallel to one another. Her body was stiff and she was unable to stand or sit up. Aunt Diana was left frail and thin from the disease, but my family believes that she never lost her ability to hear or see. Medically speaking no one is positive she had those abilities. My family (I was told) would always talk to Diana and they would play games such as peek-a-boo. Aunt Diana would always smile, she seemed to be intrigued by the people surrounding her.

From a medical perspective, if Aunt Diana suffered from hearing loss, it is believed that she may have been able to understand body gestures and facial expressions. Also if she was experiencing loss of sight, her smiles and staring may have only been a muscle reaction. We can not say for sure what Aunt Diana knew or what she didn’t know, due to her speech loss. All that we can be said for sure is that my aunt appeared to be happy; she always had a smile for whoever approached her. She seemed to enjoy the family that surrounded her and to soak in all the love. Aunt Diana was never left out of anything as she was included in all of the family activities and festivities. Diana’s brothers and sisters would take turns holding her so she was able to participate in horseback riding and wading in the water while the others swam. Aunt Diana was never deprived of any childhood fun. My grandmother also taught my aunt how to eat and swallow and chew by tapping her chin. Eventually Aunt Diana learned the ability to eat her food some what independently. My grandmother was very successful in teaching her daughter similar tasks. My mother also slept in the same bed as Aunt Diana every night growing up, so that Diana never felt neglected or alone.

Some people say having a child with special needs can be a burden bringing stress to a relationship or family. But in the case of my family, Aunt Diana was a gift that brought my family closer together. For example, when my mother went away to college she came home every weekend to see her sister. When she got married, my mother continued to visit come home every weekend. My mother frequently visited Aunt Diana because she wanted to, not because she felt she had to. There were family member’s that loved my aunt, but did not know how to handle her special needs. It takes a special person and a unique family to provide the life and love that they did for Aunt Diana and that truly defines family. Another example was Diana’s brother who returned from Vietnam and when he father passed away, he went to my grandmother and aunt’s side to assist them. He did not consider this a burden. My uncle showed compassion for his family and nothing else was more important to him. In all of Aunt Diana’s brothers and sisters lives, she played an important and unforgettable role that helped sculpted them to who they are today.

My Aunt Diana was a gift to my family and she played a large part in keeping my family close, united spiritually and emotionally. From all of the stories that I heard, I can only imagine her being a perfect woman up on a pedestal by all of the people around her. Through the family interviews, not one person spoke ill of my aunt or blamed her for something that they missed out on as children growing up. If anything she added something very special to their lives. When they speak of Diana, it is as if she is still here with us, and as you watch their facial expressions when they reminisce of her, they smile. Aunt Diana was loved so much that I truly believe is what kept her alive against all the odds.

If my family was not who they are, she would have been sent to a hospital and she probably would have only lived for a year.

If the doctors were able to diagnose my aunt during the early stages of her disease she would have been able to live a “normal” life.

If the vaccine for meningitis was founded before the early 1990’s she would have never been diagnosed with the disease.

If…if…if…

It no longer matters what should have and could have happened. I believe that everyone on earth has a purpose and Aunt Diana beat the odds for a reason much higher then we can ever know. Despite the meaning of a “normal” life, Aunt Diana lived a fulfilled life that was more fulfilled than many others. Aunt Diana’s life had a purpose filled with so much love, despite her physical circumstances. I only wish that I had the opportunity of meeting my legendary Aunt Diana. I wish that we all had the ability that she had. Making people realize what is truly important and meaningful in their lives and to be able to give the powerful gift of unconditional love.