During the 23 years Kaye O'Bara has provided continuous care for her comatose daughter Edwarda, life has been a fitful balance between constant hope and chronic crisis.
Lately, though, the financial and physical pressures of her personal, 24-hour-a-day vigil have pushed O'Bara, a widow, close to despair.
"It's never been this bad, " O'Bara said Wednesday at her Northwest Dade home. The house has three mortgages on it -- all of them months overdue.
Many of the benefactors who have assisted O'Bara are now gone.
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"The majority of the people who first started out with us were about 60 then -- and now they've gone to heaven. I guess they're trying to help me from up there, " O'Bara said.
And O'Bara, 65, has begun to suffer high blood pressure. That makes her daily regimen of mixing sleep in short shifts with acting as Edwarda's nurse and medical technician seem more demanding than ever.
"When you're not feeling good, it's extra hard to try to do it, " O'Bara said.
Yet O'Bara sees small signs of progress in her daughter, who has not been fully conscious since lapsing into a diabetic coma in January of 1970.
"She's a little more alert, " said O'Bara. "She just smiles."
Edwarda's doctor is Louis Chaykin, an endocrinologist who has provided decades of free medical treatment. Clinically speaking, Edwarda's prognosis does not point to emergence from the coma, Chaykin said. There was brain damage.
But the doctor knows why O'Bara continues her long, loving struggle to help her daughter.
"I think she has a tremendous amount of faith in God and her religion, " Chaykin said.
If O'Bara gave up her personal vigil, Edwarda, 40, could be moved into state care.
"That amount of care would be very, very expensive. And I'm not sure Edwarda would get the quality of care she needs, " Chaykin said.
A recent religious experience has renewed O'Bara's determination, she said.
She felt she was in the presence of the Virgin Mary in Edwarda's room, which is filled with medical equipment. She said she asked the Virgin to "move some people to take some of the load off, so I can concentrate on Edwarda."
In the past, O'Bara has benefited from help from celebrities. Major sports personalities -- including Don Shula, Joe Montana, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Monica Seles -- have donated such memorabilia as autographed balls, uniforms or other equipment for fund-raising raffles.
But the money has not been enough to keep pace with O'Bara's- bills.
And she has seen two longtime, influential friends die in recent years: Miami Herald columnist Charles Whited and South Florida TV-news legend Ralph Renick.
Without their advocacy, the flow of assistance has slowed.
But O'Bara says she will endure. And she gently disagrees with Chaykin's medical assessment.
"He says he's never heard of anyone who has come out after this long, " O'Bara said. "But we've done so much with prayer."