won the right to live in her community after a lifetime of institutionalization
In 1934, 16-year-old Opal had a brief psychotic episode and was committed to the Austin State Hospital. The shame and stigma of Opal’s mental illness and staff’s discouragement of visitation caused her family to drift away from her. Opal did not hear from her family again until 1985, when her nephew — whom she had never met — learned of her at a family reunion and decided to find her. He began a long battle to remove Opal from institutions, where she had been living for more than 50 years. With help from Disability Rights Texas, Opal got out of state institutions and won a $505,000 verdict against the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation for negligently subjecting her to “institutionalization syndrome.” Opal passed away on March 15, 2005, after spending several happy years in the community, reconnecting with old friends and family members.