Nancy Flaherty has led an interesting and often troubled life, starting when she was a seriously ill child. Nevertheless, her faith in God's goodness has never wavered.

"He has blessed me in many ways," she said. "I've had a great life."

Now 80, Mrs. Flaherty -- nee Maloney -- recalled her childhood in Troy as a time of being sick and housebound for years. Born with a heart condition, she often fainted but still was able to attend Sacred Heart School. Then, when she drank milk from a friend's glass, her life changed.

"I got a strep infection," she said, "and then pain in my legs. I had a bad sore throat. The doctor examined me and said I'd have to stay in bed an awfully long time."

She had contracted rheumatic fever, a complication of strep throat now rare in the United States. Back then, though, Nancy was homebound for four years, spending 18 of those months confined to her bed.

In an attempt to fight the disease, her doctor recommended a fairly new medicine: penicillin.

"It's the only chance we have," he told Nancy's parents. To fight off the disease, she was given shots every four hours, 24 hours a day - a financial burden on her working-class parents.

Frustrating times
When she didn't improve, Nancy was sent to Albany Medical Center for a diagnosis.

"I remember lying on a stretcher in a big room," she recalled. "There were all these doctors sitting up in a balcony, looking at me. One specialist said, 'I wouldn't let her walk from here to there.' But another physician, standing beside her, replied, 'Let her. She won't live anyway.'"

When he leaned over her, Nancy's response was to sock him in the nose.

Confined once more to her home, she continued her schoolwork with the aid of a tutor and played with a bunny named Charlie. She also entertained herself by listening to radio shows.

On one of them, Nancy was startled to hear her name read on a list of best wishes for shut-in kids. She also got mail from people she didn't know who hoped she would recover. In addition, "the school sent me little gifts," she said.

Those were the pluses of her childhood. "The worst," she revealed, "was not being able to play or go to school." At times, she couldn't even read because "my heart would race."

Putting puzzles together with her father became one of her few activities. "He said the Rosary and went to Mass daily," she said.

She received her First Communion on Christmas morning: "I was so excited. I was confirmed while I was sick, but I was able to be with my class."

Getting better
Slowly, Nancy improved. She graduated with honors from Sacred Heart School; a local newspaper story called her "one of the happiest and most grateful girls in Troy." She went on to graduate from Catholic Central High School in Troy, a school she'd dreamed of attending during her illness.

Taking a job in a bank, where she worked in the clearinghouse for checks, she looked up one day and spied a coworker walking by. She turned to another coworker and said, "I'm going to marry him."

She did. Six months into her marriage, she had an operation that worried her new spouse, Don, and other relatives. "I learned later that the doctor told everyone I'd never have children," she explained, "so I made a novena every week."

The answer to her prayers was eight kids, with the first one weighing in at nine pounds. One of the later babies was jaundiced, causing her husband to joke, "They're coming out moldy now!"

"He had great faith," she said. "He was a saint."

Family ties
Another trial in Mrs. Flaherty's life occurred when Don died at 50. Mrs. Flaherty vowed to see to it that all her children went to college. Today, she also has 30 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

"The Lord has blessed me," she remarked, adding: "I trust God."

In 1996, Nancy married Patrick Flaherty, who was born in Ireland. When they had a chance to take a trip there, he confessed that he couldn't go because he didn't have a passport. He had been brought to America as a child by his parents, who never arranged for his citizenship. He finally became an American citizen at 72. Mr. Flaherty passed away four years ago.

A parishioner at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Troy, Nancy makes an effort to tell her numerous descendants that "God has a special plan for them. I teach them to pray.

"It's shocking to me how many people don't know God," she said. "You can feel lost in the world and wonder where He is."

Reflecting on her 80 years of illness, loss, love and family, Mrs. Flaherty said, "I've had a great life. God has blessed me in many ways. I've made up for the lives I didn't have as a child."