My Left Foot
(1954) is Irish author Christy Brown’s autobiography. Born with severe cerebral palsy, Brown went on to become a successful author, painter, and poet, even though he lacked control and dexterity of his limbs, with the exception of his left foot. In 1989, the book was adapted into an Academy Award winning film starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
When Brown was first born, neither his doctors nor his parents noticed symptoms or behaviors to lead them to think he was anything but a normal, healthy child. At four months old, however, Brown's mother noticed that her son could not hold his head upright and lacked motor control of the rest of his body. Afraid that there was something seriously wrong with her child's health, she took him to a doctor who diagnosed Brown with a severe and incurable disorder known as cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is the result of damage to the parts of the brain that control motor function. These damages generally occur while the mother is pregnant, though they can occur during childbirth as well. The disorder does not, however, generally affect a child's intellectual function. However, because little was known about cerebral palsy at the time of Brown's diagnosis, the doctors advised his mother and the rest of the family that Brown was likely mentally disabled and that she should give up any hope of him having a normal and productive life. While the rest of Brown's family accepted this false diagnosis of Brown's intellectual capacities, his mother refused to believe it.
As time went on, Brown's mother continued to believe in her son's normal mental capacity in defiance of doctors and peers. Then, when Brown was five years old, his mother finally saw evidence that she was right. One day, while his sister was playing with a piece of chalk next to him, Brown took the piece of chalk out of her hand with his left foot and wrote an "A" on the ground. The fact that he made a coherent letter, Brown admits, was either coincidence or instinct, writing that his intent was to make "a wild sort of scribble with it on the slate." Whatever the case, it was a transformative moment for both him and his mother. For Brown, the moment finally opened an outlet for communication. For his mother, the moment was proof that her son's mental capacity was not diminished as the doctors believed.
Following this transformative communicative experience, however, Brown eventually turned inward over time. Although other children, including his siblings, would play with him while Brown moved around on a cart he called "Henry," he felt distance from these children in a very acute way. Brown knew he was different; that realization was an intensely depressing one for him. As he grew increasingly introverted, Brown began to lose himself in literature, painting, and poetry.
A visit to Lourdes, France provided Brown a second major transformative experience. There, he met a number of people with even worse disabilities than his. This experience gave him an enormously valuable dose of perspective on his condition. For perhaps the first time in his life, Brown felt thankful for all that he was able to do, as opposed to feeling depressed about all that he was unable to do. Brown also documents various advancements in cerebral palsy research and treatment around that time. Some of those treatments helped Brown improve his speech and motor functions a small but significant amount. With his new perspective on life, however, Brown realized how thankful he was for even the smallest improvements in his condition.
These treatments were done with the help of Dr. Robert Collis, an Irish doctor who had served in the Red Cross and helped treat Holocaust victims in the wake of the Allied liberation of the Bergen-Belsen liberation camps. He later established Cerebral Palsy Ireland, a state-of-the-art cerebral palsy clinic where Brown became his first patient. Having written books himself, Collis was eager to help Brown write his autobiography, giving him tips and proofreading sections as he went along. Together, Collis and Brown completed two drafts of the autobiography along with the final draft. At the end of the book, Brown describes Collis reading the beginning of the book to a fundraising audience, which gives the book a very positive reception.My Left Foot
is an inspired story about a man accomplishing great things despite being totally written off by doctors at a young age.