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Because A Father Cared
IT WOULD have been easier, really, for Morley and Lucy Hudson if their little Lucy had died.
Death is heartbreaking, but it is also inevitable and final, and the sorrow it brings is universally understood and respected.
But when this fine couple -- this Rotary couple, as you would call them -- found that their pretty little girl would never develop mentally, they felt that their heartache was unique, and they soon discovered that few can fathom the grief of those whose loved ones are condemned to the land of the living dead.
It was many months before this normally jolly businessman of Shreveport, Louisiana, learned to live with the knowledge that his child probably will spend the rest of her allotted span on earth in the desolate strata of existence which hope seldom reaches and promise rarely brightens.
Because Morley Hudson became convinced that this tragedy had befallen his family for a purpose, the parents of mentally retarded children throughout Louisiana and in several adjoining States now can face the future with serenity and, in many instances, with hope as well.
Rotarian Hudson's personal tragedy served as the springboard for the organization of the Caddo-Bossier Association for Mentally Retarded Children. It also proved the stimulant for the almost unbelievable development of the Louisiana Association for Retarded Children. From it, too, have sprung similar organizations in Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
The wave of activity by parents of mentally retarded children in all sections of the U.S.A., some of which undoubtedly was inspired by the action of Louisiana parents, is a social phenomenon almost without precedence in any country.
Morley Hudson feels his experience was typical of that of other parents of mentally retarded or brain-injured children. When he was first informed of his daughter's affliction, he felt an acute sense of guilt and something akin to shame.
"I remember wondering what I had done to deserve this terrible punishment," he says. "I wondered of what sin I had been guilty that this should happen to me. I felt that life had been unfair to me."
At birth, little Lucy was a completely normal infant. At age 14 months she suffered an attack of scarlet fever and encephalitis which damaged her brain and left her in what medical and psychiatric experts term the "vegetative" state.
After months of treatment Lucy still recognized no one, showed no emotions, and was totally disinterested in her surroundings. Her arms and legs, which had been drawn up in a spastic position, gradually relaxed, but in six months' time no other sign of her recovery manifested itself.
In January, 1953, the child was taken to a children's hospital in Chicago where her parents were informed that she probably would spend the rest of her life in the vegetative state. Mr. and Mrs. Hudson were advised to place her in a custodial home to spare further heartache for themselves and additional difficulties for their older daughter, Nancy, now 8.
"The shock of receiving news like that is something no one can understand unless he has experienced it," Rotarian Hudson maintains. "We began inspecting custodial homes, but they all seemed so bleak we couldn't bear to leave a 2-year-old child in any of them. Then we heard of a lovely, homelike place in Texas, so we took Lucy there."
Some eight months later the Hudsons learned of a new type of treatment which had proved effective in treating acute encephalitis cases on the West Coast. Lucy was taken to California in August, 1953, but here further grief awaited them. They were told that the child was, for all practical purposes, blind and deaf as well as mentally retarded.
Until about a year ago Lucy remained at the California hospital, where she eventually learned to sit up, to chew solid foods, and to crawl about to some extent. Her mental development, however, lagged far behind her physical advances.
"All those long, lonely months I had been doing a lot of thinking and self-probing," Morley Hudson recalls. "I began to understand that I must stop asking myself why this had happened to me and must begin thinking in terms of how I could use my personal tragedy to the greater glory of God and what I could do to ensure this unfortunate child of mine a life of happiness and usefulness. Once I had adopted this line of thinking, the way became clear to me."
Morley began reading all available information on mental retardation. He learned that 3 percent of the world's population is mentally retarded and that the odds are one in 30 that every family will be stricken with one mentally retarded member. In fact, the chances are four times greater that someone in every family will be mentally retarded than that someone will be killed in an automobile accident.
He learned, too, that mental retardation is nine times more prevalent than cerebral palsy and ten times more crippling than polio. According to best information, mentally retarded persons exceed accumulated totals of all other handicapped persons combined, speaking numerically. Even more comforting from a personal standpoint was the discovery that medical experts consider mental retardation as accidental as a broken leg and are convinced that it is not hereditary.