Colleen O'Bara bathed her older sister, Edwarda, and fixed her hair. She fed her through a feeding tube like she'd done countless times. It was going to be a good day, the day before Thanksgiving.
With her morning routine complete, Colleen planned to fetch a cup of coffee. She bent down and kissed her big sister, told her she'd be right back.
"She gave me the biggest smile she has ever given me in her life," Colleen recalls. "Her face was aglow. There was a sparkle in her eyes."
But just then, Edwarda closed her eyes.
For 42 years, her family held vigil. They awaited the day Edwarda would awake, the miracle that never came.
At the age of 59, Edwarda died, believed by medical experts to have lived longer than anyone in a comatose state.
Her father, Joe, died six years after she fell into her diabetic coma, the strain of working three jobs to pay her medical bills too much. Her mother, Kathryn, had promised to never leave her side; she died in 2008 after caring for Edwarda for 38 years.
Former President Bill Clinton, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, singer Neil Diamond and other celebrities visited the home over the years. Renowned self-help author Wayne Dyer penned a book, "A Promise Is A Promise," about Kathryn's unconditional love.
Thousands of people -- from Japan to Australia, from Italy to Canada -- took the pilgrimage to the O'Bara home, inspired by the devotion of her mother. They were drawn too because they believed Edwarda had miracle healing powers: A woman with an inoperable brain tumor was cancer free months after she touched Edwarda. Two girls with cystic fibrosis were apparently healed in the months after visiting her room. Even skeptics said they felt a strange aura when they walked into the North Miami home.
Kathryn claimed Mother Mary appeared in visions. Mom wrote Pope John Paul II. He responded with letters of his own.
On the walls of Edwarda's room, Mom pinned inspirational quotes: "Where there is great love, there are great miracles."
The Hemlock Society phoned often, pleading with the mother to let her daughter die. The day after Christmas in 1981, someone called to say he was going to put Edwarda out of her misery. A few hours later, three bullets were fired into the home. No one was hurt.
Edwarda was just 16 when she fell into her comatose state. Her favorite song then was "Bobby's Girl," because she had a crush on a boy named Bobby.
In the decades that followed, Bobby would visit the home, but she even outlived him.
It seemed Edwarda touched everyone she came into contact with, even the doctor who saved her life. He struggled with the ethics of what he'd done.
He wondered: Would it have been better if I'd let her die?
A promise kept
Edwarda and Colleen were inseparable, born just 18 months apart. Edwarda was the studious, obedient, loving child. Colleen was the mischievous tomboy.
"She kept me in check," Colleen recalls. "I had a short fuse on my temper when we were younger. My sister was just calm. She put up with me unbelievably."
Family photos show the bonds of sisterhood at an early age: as ballerinas, on Santa's lap, playing with the family's German shepherd. Birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas were a bundle of fun, a time to celebrate as family.
"All I ever wanted in life was to have two girls. God was very good and granted me my wish," Kathryn O'Bara told Dyer in his book.
Kathryn McCloskey and Joe O'Bara married in 1948, a promising young couple eager to start a family. She was the daughter of the mayor of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He was the Navy's middleweight boxing champion during World War II and went on to star on the University of Pittsburgh's football team.
The family eventually settled in South Florida. Joe became a physical education teacher at a Catholic elementary school. Kathryn -- Kaye to family -- taught math at a high school.
Kathryn's niece, Pam Burdgick, remembers her aunt and uncle as pillars of the family. She went to college in the mid-1960s in South Florida and would stay with the O'Baras on weekends. "Kaye was the personification of unconditional love. That was for all of us, not just Edwarda."
Edwarda, then 12, would watch her put makeup on. "She was a sweet, loving child."
Like so many girls, Edwarda and Colleen loved horses. At a nearby ranch, the sisters' friendship grew. "Colleen had horses, and Edwarda had a pony because she was always the cautious one," says Burdgick.
Edwarda did the hard work around the stables, allowing her younger sister a lot more time to ride the horses. "My sister would clean the stalls, brush the horses, let me have all the fun, and she would do all the work."
"That's what she wanted to do for me. She's the most giving sister that anybody could possibly have had," Colleen recalls. "She was my best friend in the whole wide world."
Edwarda was diagnosed with diabetes in late 1969. She was prescribed an oral insulin medication -- a medicine that is no longer given to adolescents due to harmful side effects.
Her diabetes didn't hinder her studies. A junior in high school, she got straight A's. Edwarda had been accepted to the University of Notre Dame, at a time when the school was mostly male. She hoped to become a pediatrician.
The family looked forward to Christmas that year. But during the break, Edwarda fell ill with the flu.
"She was sick and throwing up and stuff," Colleen says.
If Edwarda had been given insulin shots, her bad bout with the flu likely would have been just that, nothing more. But every time she vomited, she was throwing up her medicine -- and sugar was building up in her system.
By the time anyone realized what was happening, her health had deteriorated.
Joe O'Bara had just returned from a fishing outing when he went into his daughter's room. The skin on her legs had sugar lumps under them, like Charley horses. They were all over.
"My sister was screaming. I remember it like it was yesterday," Colleen says. "My dad started rubbing her legs to try to get the sugar to flow in her legs. He picked her up, and we just rushed her to the hospital."
It was January 3, 1970, when Edwarda arrived at North Miami General Hospital around 2 a.m. -- Joe and Kaye's 22nd wedding anniversary.
Dr. Louis Chaykin, who was on call that night to treat another patient, remembers seeing Edwarda and her mother in the emergency room. Daughter and mother were holding hands.
"I remember the words the daughter told the mother when she was lying in the emergency room: 'Don't ever leave me,'" the doctor says. "And the mother said she never would."
Soon, her lungs collapsed. Her kidneys failed. Her heart faltered, causing a lack of oxygen to the brain.