A leading figure of the twentieth century, Helen Adams Keller started life as a healthy baby born in the summer of 1880. When she was 19 months old, Helen developed a fever so intense that she came close to death. Although she survived, the mysterious sickness that attacked and then suddenly disappeared left her blind and deaf.
What was the doctor's diagnosis of Helen Keller when she was a baby?
Medical knowledge and treatment options were not well developed in those days. Helen's doctors called her condition "acute congestion of the stomach and brain" — or "brain fever." Researchers can now look back and only guess at what caused such a devastating illness. Modern medical professionals think that Helen Keller may have suffered from meningitis, scarlet fever, or encephalitis (a rare and sometimes life-threatening swelling of the brain).
Helen and her family struggled fiercely with communication during those early years after her recovery. Her parents were desperate for a way to help Helen learn and get along in the world. As Helen Keller wrote in the autobiographical The Story of My Life, "The most significant day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me."
Although Helen was at first resistant to instruction, Anne and Helen became inseparable as teacher and student. For the next 50 years, Anne Sullivan shared a bright light of learning and friendship with Helen Keller. Before her death at age 87, Helen would become the first deaf-blind person to graduate from college, an outspoken supporter of women's and workers' rights, a world traveler, and an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and humanitarian.