Defying the Odds: The Orange Karen Countdown Series

Happy December everyone! ‘Tis the season for twinkly lights on houses, packed parking lots at the shopping mall, and way more fruit cake than society needs. Christmas specials are already on the major TV networks and commercials and littered with stuff you’ve just gotta have.

All commercialism aside, this holiday season is a time to reflect upon the year and be with those we love. Every day for the next two weeks, we’ll be hosting a series of writers who have Big Love for a certain orange-headed warrior, Karen DeLabar. We love her, we feel inspired by her and we want to help her out. We hope you do too.


The deadline for short story submissions is fast approaching – December 15th. Submission guidelines can be found here. But before you head over there, continue reading. Our good friend Susan Ethridge shares a very personal and touching story about her father, a man who defied all odds and lived a full life. A warrior’s life. Just like our Karen.


My father was a very brave man. Very strong, and very stubborn.

He was born in 1933, in rural Texas, and at the age of five, he began to exhibit serious musculoskeletal problems. Medical care was limited – the nearest doctor was two hours away, and in that time and place, the type of specialized treatment he needed was practically non-existent.

By the time he was in high school, his spine was curved into a question mark. In his junior year, he underwent surgery, during which several of his vertebrae were fused in an attempt to slow the progression of his disease. The official name: severe scoliosis. He spent most of that year in a chest-to-hip brace.

His doctors told him that he would probably never be able to walk. That he would never be able to have a family, or hold a job. That he should resign himself to the life of an invalid and prepare for an early death.

Instead, he fought.

He recovered from the surgery and enrolled in college. He earned a degree in Accounting from Texas Tech University, and took over the family business – an industrial/agricultural operation in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  He worked at least ten hours per day during the harvest season, in a business that involved tractors and welding and heavy machinery. Not a desk job. Not cushy at all.

He married my mother, and adopted her young daughter. And then he fathered my sister. And me.

In my entire life, I never saw him bend over to tie his shoe – he couldn’t. Instead, he would put his foot up on a coffee table or a stool, so that he could reach the laces. His right side was partially paralyzed and atrophied; he walked with a limp, and my mother had to alter all of his shirts and pants to fit the hump on his back and the odd length of his right leg. He lived with chronic pain, and yet he bore his struggle with such stoicism and determination that until I was eight or nine years old, I didn’t even realize that anything was wrong. He adapted. He overcame.

He wasn’t even supposed to live, but he did – and then some. He defied every doctor’s prediction. He ran a business and raised my sisters and me. He took us camping and taught us how to grow melons and gladiolas. He lived a good life. A good, big, rich, full life.

He died when he was 57. I was 20.

I thought I knew what it meant to be a warrior. After all, I was raised by one.

And then I met Karen.

To be truthful, we haven’t actually met in person. Our paths were brought together through a writers’ group on Facebook. I have only read about the disease that nearly killed her, the grueling surgeries, the gradual withdrawal from serious narcotic pain killers, and her incredible recovery.

I wasn’t there. I didn’t experience any of it first-hand. And yet, it all touches me to the core.

For my father, disease and pain and struggle were always a part of life. He never knew anything else. His only option – ever – was to fight. It was a moot point.

But Karen had a “normal” life. She was a young mother, a writer, a wife…buying groceries, taking her daughter to dance class, writing stories, doing her thing. She never imagined that she might face death at the age of 30, with two little girls to raise. In her wildest dreams, she never thought she would hear a doctor say “You might never walk again.” Her world was happy, simple, fulfilling…until the day she got sick. And from that day to this, life has been one long, arduous battle.

My father was one kind of warrior, and Karen is another. Maybe even stronger, maybe even more stubborn and more determined than he was. After all, the idea that life had to be fought for was all he ever knew. But that fact took her completely by surprise. And she rose to the challenge anyway.

Orange Karen looked death in the face and beat it. She lost a toe, and almost lost a thumb, and she still faces long months of recuperation and rehabilitation, but today, she is walking. She is potty training her younger daughter and celebrating Christmas with her husband and family. She auditioned for a part in her community theater’s production of “Little Orphan Annie.” And let’s not leave this aside: she also completed NaNoWriMo – a competition which challenges authors to submit 50,000 words of a novel in a single month.  She can’t type very fast, or for very long, so she did all of that by hand.

Karen, I wish so much that my father could have met you. He would have admired you, a lot. You are a warrior.


Susan Ethridge works in marketing, and enjoys graphic design, painting, cooking and writing. She and her husband live in Texas with their two cats.


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