Daniel J Vance

Over the years I’ve read a lot of news items about people with disabilities. One newspaper report on Donna Joy and Lori Vance, of Rogersville, Tennessee, especially caught my eye because of the last name.

‘When I was seven-months pregnant with (Donna Joy), an obstetrician said her condition was ‘completely incompatible’ with life,’ said 42-year-old Lori Vance in a telephone interview. Though doctors were urging her to abort late-term because they thought the unborn child would die outside the womb, Vance gave birth anyway in November 1991.


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Donna Joy was missing over half her brain, and what was left was ‘small and wrinkled, abnormally disfigured,’ said Vance. Donna Joy had cerebral palsy, holoprosencephaly, hydrocephalus, and arnold-chiari malformation. At birth her head was swollen, and brain tissue protruded through a small hole in her head.

‘And yet she was absolutely gorgeous,’ said Vance. Doctors told Vance that Donna Joy didn’t have any speech center, independent thought processing center, memory, or gross and fine motor abilities. They said she had a damaged visual center. To keep her alive that first year, Vance fed Donna Joy formula drop by drop through a syringe.

What became of Donna Joy sixteen years later? Said Lori Vance, ‘She just won an honorary title in a beauty contest and was Honorary Miss Fourth of July Rogersville Princess. She talks almost constantly, and is quite ambulatory, even taking track medals in the Tennessee Special Olympics.’

Donna Joy is mainstreamed at public school for art, music, and physical education. According to Vance, Donna Joy is the highest functioning special education student at her Rogersville school, and often is called upon to help other students.

Said Vance, ‘You have to understand how amazing this is, especially when you meet her and she greets you with a hug. It is simply not logical for a child to succeed with this kind of damaged brain stem and so little brain available.’

Doctors have absolutely no explanation for how or why Donna Joy has survived, let alone flourished. Before her, no child with her condition had even lived beyond age two.

The Vances became well-known in 1997 when Lori testified before Congress in support of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, and they were present in 2003 at the Act’s signing. Vance advises women facing similar circumstances to continue on with their pregnancy.

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