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Book Reviews

Melanie: Bird With a Broken Wing, a Mother's Story

Sturner, Rebecca

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Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: June 2013 - Volume 34 - Issue 5 - p 343
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e31829cf8d1
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In her memoir, “Melanie: Bird With a Broken Wing, A Mother's Story,” Beth Harry takes her readers through a detailed and deeply personal narrative of the life of her daughter Melanie, a baby born with cerebral palsy and mental retardation. Dr. Beth Harry, now a Special Educator as a direct result of her experiences, tells her story as a mother with no special training. From the moment Melanie was born to the moment of her premature death, Beth Harry found no effort too large and no detail too small in her valiant efforts to better the well-being of her beloved daughter. This memoir includes accounts of Dr. Harry's encounters with numerous health professionals, her interactions with family and friends, her professional ambitions, and most importantly, her thought processes about each obstacle and milestone that she and her daughter faced. This thoughtful and inspiring narrative has the potential to serve different readers, medical trainees and professionals, parents of severely disabled children, or simply interested and sympathetic souls.

From the viewpoint of a medical professional, the main lessons of this book come from the interactions between Dr. Harry and the multitude of doctors, nurses, and therapists whom she encounters. Dr. Harry, like any diligent parent, hangs on every word uttered by her physicians regarding her daughter, instructions for care, prognosis, or encouragement. Dr. Harry's careful attention demonstrates the importance of and thoughtfulness required in the approach a medical professional should take when addressing a patient or patient's family member.

The impact medical professionals impart on their patient's life is conveyed not only through their words but also through the services they provide; patients value a comprehensive care plan rather than segmented care from different institutions. Beth Harry clearly expresses the frustrations and time expenditure associated with seeking out advice from disparate sources. She resolved to address these major problems with medical care when she created a special center that offers education alongside specialized care for families of disabled children. By creating her own facility, Dr. Harry showed the medical community exactly the type of care she sought while providing it to other like-minded parents.

The highly individual trauma of parenting a child with disabilities can be isolating, as other adults can rarely commiserate or offer advice. Dr. Harry's book provides these parents what most people cannot: a sense of camaraderie and permission to feel any range of emotions they might experience. Dr. Harry's candid disclosure of emotions throughout her narrative demonstrates that deep despair, seemingly unfounded hope, and many emotions in between should not be suppressed but embraced and used for personal strength. Dr. Harry exemplifies this attitude through her attention to each of Melanie's small achievements, which she views as massive gains. Also, after telling of Melanie's death, Dr. Harry briefly expresses her profound pain but then focuses on her appreciation for the deep love she felt for her daughter and the blessing that was Melanie's life. This incredibly positive perspective has the potential to help readers through their grief after a loss or allow medical professionals’ insight into the perspective of parents of children under their care.

For those reading to deepen their experience of the human condition, this narrative will succeed in pulling the heartstrings. Through her mother's narrative, Melanie deepens our compassion and humility by giving us greater awareness of our good fortune and awe at the strength of those to whom life has dealt a harsher card. Beth Harry's perseverance and ambition will inspire readers to confront their challenges with positive resolve rather than resentment.

Although this awe-inspiring tale of loving determination is inspiring, readers who have not experienced such hardship for themselves or in their patients may lose interest in the story prematurely, as it is heavily laden with medical and personal details of Melanie's and Dr. Harry's lives. However, this slow pace mirrors the painstaking care with which Dr. Harry looked after her daughter. This book may be most appropriate for trainees in pediatrics and rehabilitation specialties, for whom these details constitute their daily professional fare. This book, a tribute to a beloved daughter, offers lessons and inspiration to parents, medical professionals, and the general public alike.

© 2013 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins