Edwarda O’Bara, the world’s longest coma patient, who had been called the “Sleeping Snow White” during the 42 years she remained comatose, has died at the age of 59.
Edwarda O’Bara was a cheery high school student in 1970 when she suddenly fell ill, threw up her medicine and slipped into a diabetic coma.
But before she became comatose Edwarda O’Bara turned to her mother and pleaded with her to “promise … you won’t leave me”.
Her mother stayed true to her word, enduring a grueling schedule to constantly stay near her daughter until the mother died five years ago and the woman’s sister became her primary care giver – until Edwarda O’Bara passed away on Wednesday.
As a popular 16-year-old, Edwarda O’Bara had a bright future ahead of her but then she became ill with a severe bout of pneumonia.
In the early hours of January 3 in 1970, Edwarda O’Bara “woke up shaking and in great pain because the oral form of insulin she had been taking wasn’t reaching her blood stream”, according to her family.
She was rushed to hospital and as she lay in her bed, she turned to her mother, Kaye O’Bara, and pleaded with her to stay near.
“Promise me you won’t leave me,” the teen begged her mother, according to the Miami Herald.
Terrified, Kaye O’Bara assured daughter: “Of course not. I would never leave you, darling,” having no idea of the long ordeal ahead.
The mother kept that promise, taking care of her daughter, until Kaye O’Bara herself died five years ago.
For more than 35 years, Kaye O’Bara remained constantly by Edwarda’s bedside, enduring a grueling schedule to give her daughter around the clock care.
Kaye O’Bara would only sleep for 90 minutes at a time, so she would always be accessible to her daughter.
The devoted mother would not institutionalize Edwarda O’Bara, even though the financial burden became a great challenge to the family.
Though Kaye O’Bara died at the age of 80 on March 7, 2008, she never gave up hope that her daughter would one day wake up from her coma.
Edwarda O’Bara’s father, Joe, had passed away in 1977. He died from a heart attack, believed to have been brought on by the strain of caring for his ailing daughter.
After their mother’s passing, Edwarda O’Bara’s sister Colleen stepped in and continued the tradition to offer constant care to Edwarda at her home in Miami Gardens.
Colleen O’Bara quit her previous job as a horse trainer to care full time for her sister.
“I didn’t give it a second thought. She’s my sister and I love her.” Colleen O’Bara said.
As part of her care, her body was turned every two hours to keep away bedsores, she was given insulin and fed through a tube.
Colleen O’Bara would also lovingly braid her sister’s grey hairs, suck the mucus from Edwarda’s throat to allow her to breath and constantly speak to her sister, assuming Edwarda was soaking up her every word.
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.
Family and friends would also visit her, playing music and reading to the woman.
Kaye O’Bara was a devout Catholic who said she felt the presence of the Virgin Mary in her daughter’s room.
That led Dr. Wayne Dyer to write a book about the family and their unconditional care for Edwarda O’Bara, A Promise Is A Promise: An Almost Unbelievable Story of a Mother’s Unconditional Love and What It Can Teach Us.
The book attracted widespread attention and visitors from around the world would come and visit the ailing woman and encourage her family.
“I had to learn to let strangers in because they aren’t strangers,” Colleen O’Bara said.
Remembering Edwarda as “the best sister in the whole wide world”, Colleen O’Bara said that she learned so much from the experience.
“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.”
This April, Colleen O’Bara gathered friends and family to Miami to celebrate Edwarda’s 59th birthday.
“We all had a good time at the party especially Edwarda. Everyone was so amazed at how aware of everything going on she was. It was just a good day,” the sister shared with her friends and supporters on Facebook.
“My mom’s spirit was so strong that we all felt her with us,” Colleen O’Bara added.
Throughout the year, Colleen O’Bara had updated supporters on Facebook on her sister’s condition.
“She is still making different sounds and is so much more aware of her surroundings,” the sister wrote in a posting in October.
“When I am talking to her I have her total attention, I can tell by the look in her eyes. This just really makes me smile.”
“Thank you for all the cards and letters I received. They always make me smile,” she added, expressing gratitude.
Even though Colleen O’Bara was optimistic about her sister’s improvement, she noticed that on Tuesday night, Edwards was having difficulty keeping her food down.
By Wednesday, the woman seemed to be feeling better and her sister told Edwarda O’Bara that she was going to grab a cup of coffee.
“I noticed her looking directly at me and gave me the biggest smile I had ever seen,” her sister said.
When Colleen O’Bara returned with her coffee, Edwarda had already passed away.
“She then closed her eyes and joined my Mom in Heaven,” Colleen O’Bara announced.
Edwarda O’Bara is survived by her sister, nephew Richard O’Bara and great-nephew Joseph Michael O’Bara.
EYES OPEN BUT STILL ASLEEP: COMAS CAN LEAVE PATIENTS UNABLE TO FEEL, SPEAK OR MOVE FOR DECADES
A person is deemed to be comatose, or in a coma, when they are unconscious for more than six hours.
While comatose, a patient cannot be woken up and though they sometimes appear to be awake, they cannot consciously feel, speak, hear, or move.
Around 40% of comas are drug induced while others are caused by a lack of oxygen reaching the brain (25%) or strokes (20%). Trauma to the head, malnutrition or abnormal glucose levels are the catalyst in around 15% of cases.
Comas can last just a few days or span to several weeks or even years.
Elaine Esposito, of Tarpon Springs, Florida, was comatose for 37 years – the second longest recorded period, after Edwarda O’Bara.
Elaine Esposito was a 6-year-old child when she was anesthetized for an appendectomy on August 6, 1941 but she never awoke from the operation.
Her last words to her mother were: “Mommy, I’m not afraid. Don’t worry.”
She died on November 25, 1978 at the age of 43.
Edwarda O’Bara had been in a coma since 1970.
Over the 42 years she was effectively asleep, the woman missed scores of historical events including the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the death of Princess Diana in 1997 and the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.