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Eileene Winters, 77; Journalist Wrote About Her Son's Struggle With Muscular Dystrophy

February 28, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

Eileene Winters, a freelance journalist and onetime actress who wrote movingly as a single mother about her young son's long and fatal struggle with muscular dystrophy, has died. She was 77.

Winters, of Simi Valley, died Feb. 20 of complications from surgery to treat cancer.

For The Times and other publications, Winters wrote about the happy events, such as when her son Andy graduated from North Hollywood's Lowman Elementary School for the disabled, rolling proudly down the aisle in his wheelchair wearing a blue tie and a big smile. When the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation sent Andy to its summer camp near San Diego, she said those were "the happiest five days of his life."

Winters also wrote about the sad times -- Andy's multiple surgeries, his loss of the ability to walk and his knowing he could never ride a bike. She wrote how, at 16, he suffered pneumonia and subsequent respiratory and cardiac arrest and lapsed into a coma with irreversible brain damage.

"I can't be sure that he knows me," she wrote for The Times in 1980 when her son was 20 and in a vegetative state. "Only his smile remains of the Andy I knew."

And, as the years dragged on, the mother who had fought to give her son as normal a life as possible conceded that she was as exhausted as a shellshocked soldier, with declining health and deteriorating career.

"I always said that I would never agree to disconnect Andy's life support," she wrote for The Times in 1990. "I am, first of all, a mother who needs to protect her young, who will not give up her beloved child. But as each year brings me closer to my own inevitable death, I wonder what would be best for Andy?"

Winters was born in Brooklyn and grew up in New York, London and Los Angeles. After studying theater at UCLA, she toured with the "Natural Seance of Wonders" magic show and performed for the Armed Forces Radio Service and in local theater. Later, she turned to writing, composing and producing plays and contributing articles to California Good Life and Big Valley magazines, The Times and smaller newspapers.

She is survived by two other sons, Eric Kaufman of Simi Valley and Owen Brian Kaufman of North Providence, R.I.; a sister, Rachel Winters of Grants Pass, Ore.; and three grandchildren.

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