‘Don’t be afraid of who you are,’ a lesson to live by
Twenty-three years ago, eight hours after Teresa was born, Karin Murray was informed by one of the nurses that her daughter was born with a disability. “The first six months were tough,” Karin said. “There was a lot of adjusting.” Teresa was Murray’s fourth child and the family was unprepared for Teresa’s diagnosis. Teresa was born with no muscle control. It was very diffi cult to feed her.
“There was no interaction. No smile. Teresa couldn’t speak until she was in kindergarten.”
Half of children born with Down syndrome have problems with their hearts. Teresa underwent open-heart surgery at the age of 6 months to open three valve restrictions. Once the operation was completed, life for Teresa improved. “People have been so helpful,” Karin said. Through government programs and early intervention, Teresa’s future looked promising. At the age of 3, Teresa’s cardiologist told Murray that Teresa was very bright. Teresa attended a preschool for special-needs children and then later attended Jamestown Elementary School and North Kingston High School.
The kids in school treated Teresa as their equal. “I want people to treat me ordinary and the same as everybody else,” Teresa said. “I don’t want to be taken for granted.” Teresa was very popular in school and when asked what she liked best about going to school, she replied “homework.” If the teachers didn’t give Teresa enough homework, she assigned extra to herself.
Outside of school, Teresa would spend her time in the library. She was also active in sports and participated in other extracurricular activities. She is an avid reader and likes to learn all about the history of the United States. She just finished reading all about the Kennedy family. Currently, Teresa is reading a novel about Abraham Lincoln entitled “Manhunt” by James L. Swanson. Scheduled next, Teresa will be reading the biography of her grandfather, Dr. Joseph E. Murray, titled “Reflections On A Curious Career.” Murray won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1990.
Teresa has participated in the Special Olympics since she was 8 years old. Her favorite sport is track and field. Now at 23 years old, Teresa has been working at McQuade’s for the past eight years and has had her own apartment since she was 18 years old. In addition to her job and athletics, Teresa has been learning to play the guitar and volunteers at the Jamestown Community Theater. She is the faithful assistant to the theatre’s director, Mary Wright, who has only the highest praise for Teresa.
“Teresa has become a good friend of mine,” Wright said. “Rarely have I met someone who is such a cheerleader for others. She motivates me to think harder when I cannot resolve a situation, she sees the positives in everybody she encounters, and recognizes that all of us have strengths. Teresa has helped me in two plays. Last year, she took a JCT acting course that I taught with others. Her ability to show compassion and humor in real life was demonstrated in her acting. Teresa writes poetry worthy of publication. She often takes poetry books from the library and reads them cover to cover in awe of the beauty in between the pages. ”
“My life will be in Jamestown,” Teresa said, “until I know what I am going to do.” She cherishes her time alone and exercises daily by walking 2.5 miles per day and also rides her bike. People with Down syndrome must eat 30 percent less calories than their peers and exercise more. Teresa is also a member of the Newport YMCA and participates in different sports activities every eightweek cycle.
An ideal day for Teresa in Jamestown would be to go for a walk before breakfast, listen to audio books on her laptop and then go to the library and seek out new books for learning. Teresa’s favorite place in Jamestown is Mackerel Cove Beach. There she can sit and dream and write the most profound poetry.
Her advice for others who are facing the same physical and mental challenges in life are simple: “Don’t be afraid of who you are. God made you this way. Take it, use it and be happy. No matter what your friends say, take who you are and make it to the best of your abilities.”
The Old Barn
By Teresa Murray
Dampness filled with fear
Spider webs in corners
White doves singing
lyrics of lullabies
Sunlight streaming through
cracks in the door
Filled with peace and joy alone
With you sleeping on a sheet,
Cuddling up to keep
warm at night
As mice fearing the
owl’s talons to be a meal
Scared of what lies ahead
Our fears struggling
Despite the smell
Of hyacinths and
roses so sweet