For all of Annie’s physicality, Mary is wholly cerebral. “I am,” says Mary, “the original geek. I have had my nose in a book my entire life. I have ruined my eyes, my posture, and all muscle tone, but it is my true passion.”
With a degree in creative writing, Mary had worked as a college instructor, a university administrator, and owned her own design firm for over 15 years when a walk down her own backstairs on a sunny December morning thrust her literally into a whole new life.
On December 16, 1999, Mary left her north side of Chicago apartment via the back stairwell on her way to the car repair shop. Mary’s muffler had taken a pounding trying to navigate Chicago’s icy and snow-banked streets that had been hit days earlier by a severe snow and ice storm. Mary and other tenants had spoken to the landlord that something had to be done about how treacherous the rear stairwell of their building had become from the alternating icing and melting and icing again. But Mary never imagined that during the night her landlord would have responded to tenant complaints about the treacherous nature of the rear stairwell by liberally applying an exterior deicer to the icy interior wooden stairwell. The deicer was clearly marked for exterior use only and warned that it was petroleum based and very dangerous when used inside. Its misapplication had created the deadly formula of thick oil on top of solid ice.
Mary stepped two feet outside her back door that sunny Saturday morning, excited about the pending holidays, well-established in her design career, and cozy in her charming little Andersonville apartment despite missing her ex-roomie: the newly married Annie. She planned on going to the automotive repair shop; instead she hydroplaned down two flights of stairs, across a landing, through a wall and into a whole new life.
For five years Mary worked closely with an attorney to hold her landlord accountable, while she adjusted to her new life: one filled with hospital visits, testing, neurologists, MRIs, CT Scans, MRAs, her Chiropractor and Cranial Sacral adjustments. She dealt with constant stumbling and falling, slurred speech, the loss of short-term memory, the inability to use the calendar, chronic head and neck pain, difficulty driving a car — the list goes on.
Discouraged by her neurologists from even attempting interior design, she moved far from her primarily north side clientele and returned to the southside to be near her newly married sister, Annie. She lived quietly in a small town while she recuperated and mastered the ins and outs of life with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Advancing finally to entry-level jobs commensurate with a skill set she’d had when she was seventeen — in no way a reflection of her education and the work resume she had spent decades building — she slowly made peace with her new life.
Always interested in medicine and alternate forms of healing, Mary found her new life lent itself to the study and mastery of all sorts of forms of healing — from the laying on of hands (Reiki) to deep tissue Manual Lymphatic Drainage massage. She purchased a Far-Infrared Sauna, threw herself into the study of botanically based products, and read and read and read. In her passion to heal both herself and Annie, she sought the skills and wisdom of every sort of physician available from allopathic (MDs), to Chiropractic, Osteopathic, Naturopathic, Naprapathic, Cranial Sacral, Homeopathic, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Iridologists, and faith-based healers. And, she kept that nose in a book. And she prayed, and meditated, and studied the lives of saints, and sages and healers and wrote and wrote and wrote — one of the few skills to miraculously survive the damage her brain sustained. Slowly she began to heal to a point where her new brain damaged life actually became a gift.
Finally after five stress-filled years of legal wrangling she won her lawsuit. The small award she received and the knowledge she had gained recovering as best she could from her TBI, and the healing certifications she had gained in her ongoing battle to “recover” her sister Annie from the deadly and debilitating syndrome that had plagued her life for over seven years, became the foundation of what is now known as The Duggan Sisters.
Mary always says of her life, “I think we make a deal with God when we are born that if our lives ever appear to be off-track then God has our permission to reset the course of our lives — even if it takes a trauma or a tragedy to accomplish it.” At least, she says, “that is what happened to me.”