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A Daughter's 'Fragile Innocence'

At 18 months old, Hillary Reston was struck by a high fever that stunted her healthy development forever. In a new book, Fragile Innocence, her father, James Reston Jr., describes how her family rallied around Hillary, seeking medical answers and a way to improve her quality of life.

Hillary's fever was originally diagnosed as being a viral condition. Nothing could be done except to monitor the fever and give Hillary aspirin and baths to cool her. The fever continued for days and Hillary's mother, Denise, grew more and more frantic, Reston recalls.

On the fifth day, the fever broke and Hillary seemed OK. But a few months later, their vibrant, verbal child began behaving in strange and even dangerous ways.

"She would walk off the end of a picnic table or just fall down for no apparent reason," Reston says.

Then Hillary began to have seizures.

"We knew at that point that there was something terribly, terribly wrong," Reston says.

Hillary's parents saw her vocabulary of about 200 words "drop away one by one by one in the months after that first seizure," Reston says. "Then it was only three words. Then it was just sounds."

Hillary is now 24, but she is about the size of a 10-year-old. Her life has included a kidney disease so severe that it took a transplant to save her. But she also has a diploma from a special school, a paying job shredding paper for the local school board and a love of bowling.

Reston describes his daughter as "extremely annoying at times … a very strong-minded person. But it has occurred to me many times that Hillary is some sort of angel because she is a total innocent. She is very fragile at the same time, and hence the title of this book."

Reston is a writer and historian whose works have included Warriors of God, The Last Apocalyps and Galileo: A Life. His wife, Denise Leary, is a corporate lawyer at NPR.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.