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As challenges mount, family finds advocate in fellow parishioner
Catholic News Service photo
Mary Karpency holds the hand of her disabled daughter, Jennifer, at the family's home in Harrisburg, Pa.
Catholic News Service photo
Mary Karpency holds the hand of her disabled daughter, Jennifer, at the family's home in Harrisburg, Pa.
Catholic News Service

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Watching faith in action is powerful and inspiring, even contagious. Diane Molitoris, a member of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Harrisburg, has become a faithful advocate for Mary Karpency, but four months ago they were mere acquaintances.

They belong to the same parish, have sung in the choir together. On Sundays, when Molitoris would see Karpency, she never noticed that anything was wrong. Karpency was always smiling and had a cheerful disposition.

Then one Sunday, Karpency shared some of her story with Molitoris, her worries and financial struggles, and Molitoris stepped into action.

Karpency is a widow. Three years ago, her husband died; for more than 10 years before that he'd suffered from a neurological disorder. In 1998, daughter Jennifer had a health crisis at age 16 that left her alive but with no brain activity and in need of constant care. Karpency's son, Jamie, suffers from mental illness. The family's medical bills and other expenses keep mounting, along with other challenges.

Molitoris has been fundraising since July for the family and helps with some financial paper work to keep the bills under control. With her help, the Karpency family has been assisted by the Silence of Mary Home in Harrisburg and by grants from the diocese's Matthew 25 collection.

She recently accompanied Karpency to the shrine at Lourdes, France, where many pilgrims bathe in the spring water in search of a miraculous cure. The all-expenses-paid trip was given to Karpency by Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers. She applied for the trip in June and was accepted two months later.

"We did everything you should do in Lourdes," Karpency told The Catholic Witness, Harrisburg's diocesan newspaper. "I had Jamie, Jenny, my sister and brother (both recovering from cancer), all on my shoulders as I entered the water. I thought, we are all going into this bath together."

Karpency's story starts in August 1998 when her husband, Joseph, was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a disease that affects muscle function.

Two weeks later, she and Jennifer, then 16, discussed what would happen to him. Would he be in a wheelchair? Would he have to go to a nursing home?

"I reassured her that we would do what we had to keep him home. Family stays together, I told her," Karpency recalled.

After they had lunch together, Jennifer went to visit a friend who was working at the bowling alley. Mother and daughter planned to meet later to go shopping. But Karpency received a frantic phone call from the friend. Her daughter had collapsed and wasn't breathing. Jennifer was rushed to the hospital.

The girl had thickening of the left ventricular, was in a coma and on a respirator. Jennifer eventually came out of the coma, able to breathe on her own, but she has no brain activity. She cannot move her body, she cannot talk.

When she was released from the hospital, the family took care of her at home, with help from nurses during the day.

Three years ago in the middle of the night, Joseph Karpency woke his wife and told her he could not move his legs. He was rushed to the hospital, after he'd fallen out of bed and lost consciousness. He suffered a brain-stem bleed and died about 48 hours later.

Karpency, 65, has been on her own for three years as a caretaker for her daughter and her son. Not even a month after her husband's death, they started getting medical bills. His insurance had been dropped immediately and Jennifer must be on Medicaid/Medicare.

On top of all that, in the past few months, the family van needed to transport Jennifer broke down. Every six weeks, she has to be transported to the hospital for a procedure that used to be done at the home, when they had private insurance. Now it would cost $3,000 for each home visit. Jennifer also is recovering from two broken femurs -- suffered in an accidental fall.

With no money to repair the van, Karpency turned to public transportation, but it was unreliable. She found another transportation company, but it charges $120 each way.

Through Molitoris' efforts, a transmission for Karpency's car was donated, and a local mechanic offered his labor free of charge. Another donor came through to replace a special mattress Jennifer needs to prevent her from getting bed sores.

As a young girl, Jennifer was vibrant and a little mischievous, her mother recalled. She was adventurous, wrote deep and somewhat dark poetry that her mother read with amazement. She loved the color pink, and "Dirty Dancing" and "Grease" were her favorite movies.

"I think somehow she knew she had to live the most out of life in her early years. She would say to me, 'I'm never getting married, Mom. I'm staying right here with you,'" Karpency said.

"God stopped her in her tracks. ... Every day my husband would go in and say to her, 'Miracles happen every day Jenny. Maybe today will be your day,'" she said.

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