Physically, Molly Guinan was born with a major heart defect.
But emotionally, her heart worked so well that it probably could have taught some lessons in what a heart could be, and do.
“The best way to describe her is, she was just love personified,” Molly’s father, Kevin Guinan, of Vineland, said a few weeks after she died. Molly was just 12 years old when her heart troubles — which were related to her Down syndrome — helped lead to her death last month.
“She was sick pretty often because her immune system wasn’t very good. And with her heart condition, a minor illness could became major pretty quickly,” her dad said.
Still, her family and friends were shocked by Molly’s death. And Molly had lots of family and friends.
Last year, an older cousin, Jackie Martine, made a documentary about Molly’s life. You can find it on YouTube; the title is easy to remember — “Everybody Knows Molly.”
Molly had just one brother, Kevin Jr., now 6, but her mother, Judy, is the youngest of six siblings. So Molly had a bunch of cousins she thought of as brothers and sisters.
And she had a crucial role in her extended family — she was in charge of blowing out the candles on every birthday cake. She gave herself that job at first because it was fun, her father said, but even when she got older and a bit of the glow wore off, “Everybody would say, ‘Where’s Molly to blow out my candles?’” he added.
Molly also was known well around Vineland’s Petway Elementary School, which she attended for seven years. She moved up to Wallace Middle School last fall, only under protest.
“Every day, she’d ask, ‘Can Molly go to Petway with Kevin?’ And we’d tell her, ‘No, Molly has to go to big-girl school,’” her dad said. “She’d sulk for a minute — and then she’d be fine.”
Her old school also misses Molly. Kristi Holt, a special-ed teacher, had her from third through fifth grades — long enough for Molly to give Holt a whole new name. Most adults at the school are called Miss or Mrs. or Mr., but this one is now widely known as “‘Hey Holt,’“ she said, laughing. “Molly’s the one who started that.”
Her teachers and others at her favorite school were stunned to hear that Molly was gone.
“I still think of her every night before I go to bed,” Holt said.
Molly also was a star in the Challenger League, a division of the North Vineland Little League for children with special needs.
“There were times she wasn’t physically up to going on the field, but she loved to get dressed up in her baseball uniform — like all the other kids,” her dad said.
And Molly actually started the season for all the kids in the Little League last year. Joe Delgado, a Challenger League founder, said it’s usually the mayor or another dignitary who gets the last word at the opening ceremonies, but last spring, the Little League’s then president, Nelson Ocasio, invited Molly to take the microphone.
She didn’t have to say much — just a basic, classic “Play ball!”
But she did the job right, and she was the right person to do it. Because in her world, everybody knew Molly.
A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.
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