Illinois woman abandons disabled daughter; Local mom empathizes

By Maggie Vespa

July 16, 2012 Updated Jul 16, 2012 at 11:00 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- They are some of the most vulnerable members of our population. Now, the story of one mentally-disabled Illinois woman's fall through the cracks, is making national headlines.

19-year-old Lynn Cameron, who has the mental capacity of a toddler, was abandoned by her mother in Tennessee. Officials say that mother cannot be charged because her daughter is an adult with no legal guardian.

The state does not have the resources to seek out every adult who might need a legal guardian, and assign them one and one local mom says, while what that Algonquin mother did was horrible, she feels for her.

Dr. Sally Jo Winek loves being a mom. While no parent's life is stress-free, the North Peoria mother of four says life with a disabled adult child is like no other.

"Gretel is my 19-year-old daughter with disabilities that stem from her having meningitis as a newborn infant," said Dr. Winek.

Gretel Winek's speech is limited to a few words. She uses an special computer to communicate. Her mental capacity is around that of a four year old.

"She's a nightmare in a parking lot. She has no sense of what might happen, what could happen. You just never know what the day is going to bring."

Dr. Winek, a licensed child neurologist, has been Gretel's legal guardian since she turned 18. Peoria attorney John T. Brady says, thanks to increasing state cuts to medicaid and human services, that's a responsibility more and more Illinois families are taking on.

"The Illinois Office of Legal Guardian, last time I checked, had over 5,000 cases," said Brady. "They had more cases than any other state."

But, he adds, many avoid going public.

"A parent will want to protect that child from ridicule and harm. So I think there's a tendency a lot of times to withdraw into the family," said Brady.

The problem, when that loved one becomes incapable or unwilling to continue, the disabled adult is left defenseless.

Something Dr. Winek knows too well. She's in the process of finding an assisted living facility for Gretel and she advises anyone who feels the need to condemn the Algonquin mother, to think twice.

"My heart goes out to her," said Dr. Winek. "Nobody's been in that mother's shoes and neither have I, but I've walked a few steps."