On a recent fall day, Darlene Armstrong watched with wonder as the
's white-sided dolphins turned somersaults and splashed spectators.
The 17-year-old disabled girl's life had changed dramatically since she was rescued from her Chicago home, where she weighed 23 pounds. The Tribune first reported her plight in June, months after she arrived at a hospital curled up on a stretcher.
The medical staff focused on her shriveled 3-foot-10-inch frame, her sunken cheeks and protruding ribs.
Doctors said the girl, who has cerebral
and can't walk, talk or feed herself, had been starved for some time. Her mother said Darlene hadn't attended school or seen a doctor in several years, according to records.
The woman pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment.
Also troubling was the newspaper's finding that Darlene could have gotten help four months earlier if an investigator and supervisors at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services had done their jobs.
The case underscored problems at DCFS amid high caseloads and shrinking state funding.
Darlene was admitted in May to a Misericordia Home facility where she'll get long-term care. Officials there declined to comment, but a September progress report offered hope.
Darlene has more than doubled her weight and is getting educational, physical and recreational services.
“Overall, Darlene appears to have adjusted well,” the report read. “(Darlene) is happy and attentive, often smiling and ‘giggling.'”
In response to the Tribune's story, more than a dozen readers reached out asking how they could help.
Authorities never attempted to terminate her mother's parental rights.