When Deanna Lingenfelter was born in January of 1952, doctors told her parents she would not survive. Fifty-seven years later, Deanna has authored three books and attributes all her accomplishments to God and her strong Catholic parents.
"My parents made sure I went where they went," said Deanna. "We lived in the country and were very family oriented. When the kids played outside, I was outside. My sister and I helped Mom with laundry. I could sit and fold. I rode horses with my dad."
When she was one-year-old, Deanna was diagnosed with Cerebral palsy, a disability resulting from damage to the brain before, during, or shortly after birth. It affects a person’s muscle movements and coordination, as well as speech. In many cases, like Deanna’s, a person is in a wheelchair.
Many will argue if Deanna’s childhood doctors could see her now, they would see how everyone has a purpose. They would see how love and encouragement can make miracles happen.
"We had to learn she was a gift from God," said Helen Lingenfelter, Deanna’s mother, quoted in one of her books. "(Deanna) didn’t just take from our whole family, but gave back incredible strength to us all."
After graduating from a special course for people with disabilities in Iowa City, Deanna moved to Opportunity Village in Clear Lake in 1973. Opportunity Village allows people with certain disabilities to live in a group home setting. Residents are involved in programs that help them work and live with purpose and dignity.
One program at Opportunity Village has allowed Deanna to author three books. "In the middle of the night, God woke me up," said Deanna. "He said I want you to write books for children on disabilities. If anybody can do it, you can because you are my child and I know you can do this."
In 2002, "The Magic Toy Box" was published. It’s about a boy and girl who come upon a toy box filled with "broken" toys. Among them, a doll that can’t stand and a teddy bear that can’t see. Each of the toys talks to the children and explains that even though some of their parts don’t work, they still have feelings and want to play.
Her second book, "More Magic," is geared toward school-aged children. A third book, "God Set Me Free," an autobiography, is her most recent publication. "The books teach children to relate to us," said Deanna.
Today, she is a regular member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish in Clear Lake, Iowa. A bus transports Deanna and eight other residents from Opportunity Village each week.
"People can be bitter about a disability or they can make the best of it," she said. "I am doing my best because I promised my family I would. Without my family and God I wouldn’t be the lady I am today."
Printed with permission from The Witness, newspaper for the Diocese of Dubuque, Iowa.