Sunday, October 08, 2006

RIP: Olivia Robello Breitha (1916-2006)

This is my patient identification number to this day. But I am not just a number now. I have finally regained the sense of dignity that was taken from me when I was a child. It's taken a long time for me to feel this way again. I'm glad I stuck it out.

--Olivia Robello Breitha, quoted in May 2003

Today's Los Angeles Times obituary pages bring news that Olivia Robello Breitha has died at the age of 90. Breitha wrote a book, Olivia: My Life of Exile in Kalaupapa (Arizona Memorial Museum Association 1988), about her longtime residence in Hawaii's famous colony for people with leprosy (Hansen's disease). I've got the book right here as I type this--it's really just a booklet, barely topping 100 pages, with lots of photos and a q&a appendix titled "Frequently Asked Questions About Leprosy" (a FAQ before FAQs?). But a fine booklet it is.

Breitha lived at Kalaupapa from the age of 18, when she was diagnosed and taken away to the colony, just two months before she was planning to marry (her intake image is shown above, left); until her death late last month, in a nursing care facility at Kalaupapa. Her memoir records all the minutiae of confinement; her three marriages; her surgeries; her travels after quarantine orders ended. Her advocacy work culminated last year in a Hawaiian state bill protecting the dignity of Kalaupapa's remaining residents (numbering about 30 now). (Here's the obituary from the Honolulu Advertiser, too.) There's a documentary called Olivia and Tim: Very Much Alive (1994), featuring Breitha's story combined with the story of a young man with AIDS, in which the two discuss living with a stigmatized diagnosis.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Mike,



My name is Nicholas Perdikares and I am a PhD candidate in the
National Capodistrian University of Athens Greece.

About two years ago I started blogging about my self in order to raise
awareness about disability issues and provide information to people
who know little or nothing at all about what living with a disability
means. In fact, my blog called "(disabled) Stories" was a part of my
dissertation- for my MA of Arts - in politics and communication. The
original texts were written in Greek.

Fortunately, my personal narratives helped in the creation of an
online community composed mostly by non disabled / able-bodied
members.

As you will find out if you visit my blog, I was born with cerebral palsy.
Knowing that the narrations of my everyday life could work as a
"medium" for the opening of an international dialogue about
disability, I decided to go further and translate my blog in English,
so to give my writings a global identity.

You may visit my web page at the following url:

http://www.disabled-stories.blogspot.com

Please, keep in mind that I have now stopped posting. Even so, fell
free to comment on what is already written! I still need everybody's
help to make my weblog interactive again. Spread the news and
help me "promote" my web page.

Yours Sincerely


Nicholas Perdikares

Irrelevant comment, sorry. I just wanted to make sure that you have got my message. I sent this via e-mail too.

Mike Dorn said...

Thanks for alerting us Nicholas. I'll be adding this to the blogroll shortly. Mike

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