Celebrate Helen Keller Day With Optimism

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by Colleen Steele |

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On this day in 1880, a healthy baby girl named Helen Keller was born. When Helen was 19 months old, a febrile illness with no known cause struck her. Historical biographies speculate she had rubella, scarlet fever, encephalitis, or meningitis.

Whatever the illness, it left Helen blind and deaf, and her parents desperate to ‌help their daughter survive in the world. When she was 6, they took her to see a famous scientist named Alexander Graham Bell, who directed them to the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. It was there that Helen met Anne Sullivan, the miraculous tutor who taught her how to write, speak, and read Braille.

Helen grew into an extraordinary, well-educated woman who used her experience and intelligence to improve the conditions of blind and deaf communities around the world. Her lectures and publications instilled courage and promoted optimism and activism within these communities and beyond.

According to the Helen Keller Foundation, “She dedicated her entire life to the betterment of others, helping people see the potential in their own lives, as well as the lives of people around them.”

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While reading many of the websites dedicated to Helen, I felt tremendous empathy for her childhood struggles. In many ways, they were reminiscent of what my son Cullen went through at a young age.

Cullen was born healthy. At age 6, he began experiencing symptoms that stumped doctors for two years. They eventually diagnosed him with pulmonary hypertension (PH) after a right-heart catheterization and further testing determined it to be idiopathic, or with no known cause.

Cullen and our family felt blindsided by this disease. We had never heard of it before the diagnosis. We were fearful for Cullen’s future, especially after being told that PH is incurable and can be life-threatening.

I’ve read that Helen was prone to tantrums before learning how to communicate with the world around her. Cullen had his moments of frustrated outbursts, too, as he learned to navigate life with the limitations that PH caused him.

And just like Helen’s parents, my husband, Brian, and I reached out to a specialist, who ordered PH treatments that improved Cullen’s quality of life. Cullen slowly adjusted to his new normal. Six years later, when the treatments stopped working, a heart and double-lung transplant saved him and restored hope for his future.

Helen’s story is unique, but the elements of courage and hope are relatable and can be an inspiring resource for the PH community.

The article “Helen Keller — A Role Model in Optimism and Activism,” by American Printing House (APH), provides several inspirational quotes by Helen, including one that became her mantra: “I am only one, but still I am one – I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

PH might limit what you can do, but don’t allow it to convince you that you can’t do anything. Optimism offers everyone a chance to make a difference in this world.

You could, for example, take the Pulmonary Hypertension Association up on its suggestion for “Advocacy August” by scheduling an advocacy trip to visit members of Congress to “share the impact of PH on your life and ask Congress to pass legislation that matters to the entire community.”

Helen prided herself on being an optimistic person, despite her physical challenges. Her blindness didn’t deter her from looking for the silver lining in difficult situations. According to APH, she advised others to “keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

So find something you can do that makes you happy; paint, draw, write, garden, knit, crochet, sew, tutor, or enroll in a course online. The opportunities that await might pleasantly surprise you once you replace defeat with optimism.

Read Helen’s book “Optimism: An Essay.” Learn from her how to look upon the world and take part in it, no matter what challenges you face.

Helen died in June 1968, but her words of wisdom continue to live on and inspire the world: “Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow.”


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.

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