Mothers & daughters: When daughter was sick, mother was guardian angel

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Karen Tepper's mom is not only her best friend, she's her guardian angel.

Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette
Karen Tepper, 43, of Squirrel Hill and her mother, Rita Ebner, 72, of Shaler.
Click photo for larger image.

After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 22, Karen, who is now 43, married a golf pro and moved to California. Her mother, Rita Ebner, wished her the best, "but it was the hardest day of my life when I saw their car pulling out of the driveway" of her house in Shaler, says Mrs. Ebner, 72.

In California, Karen's illness got worse, and her husband was not supportive. But Karen didn't want to be a burden on her mom, who had spent so much time caring for her dad, who also had MS and eventually died of it. Finally, though, after six years of toughing it out, she called her mother, who promptly swung into action.

"She enrolled me at the Falk Clinic at UPMC, made an appointment with a neurologist, and then flew out to California, packed up all my stuff, and brought me home."

When she returned to Pittsburgh, Karen was in a wheelchair, but with the help of UPMC neurologist Rock Heyman "and the love of my mom and stepdad," she learned to walk again. "I never wanted to leave the house, but she got me out and about," said Karen. "I was using a cane, and I was embarrassed."

"You got over it after a while," her mother said soothingly.

"Yeah, I did, but it was hard. People would be staring at my cane," responded Karen. "I remember one time I said to someone, 'Oh, do you like this cane? You should see the one that lights up that I take when I go dancing!" she said, prompting a chuckle from her mother.

Today, Karen's remarried -- "this one's a keeper"-- lives in Squirrel Hill and works as an executive secretary at Buchanan Ingersoll law firm, Downtown. But every Friday, she takes a cab to her mother's house after work, and then they go out to dinner. Karen then spends the night and goes shopping or to the movies with her mother the next day.

"We have always been close to each other," says Rita, who believes daughters respond to mothers with a positive outlook on life. "I just show all the love I can."


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