Cypress, Texas (CNN)Dortha Biggs enters through the front door and rushes to greet her daughter, Lesli, who sits in a recliner, curled in fetal position.
Mother and daughter lock hands and begin a ritualistic rubbing of hands, the only way they can communicate. It's rhythmic and intimate, beautiful and heartbreaking. Lesli squeals as her mother holds her right hand and pats her left.
A smile starts to radiate from Lesli's face.
"Looka there," Dortha says. "Are you going to smile? Can you smile? There's that smile!"
Ever since Lesli was born 48 years ago, Dortha has longed to hear her daughter say a single word. She cried more tears than anyone can imagine, rocking young Lesli every night for years on end. Mom would get maybe an hour or two of sleep before heading off to her teaching job.
"Because you just care so much," Dortha says.
Dortha contracted rubella when she was 2½ weeks pregnant, before she even knew that she was expecting. Although she got better, the virus took root in her fetus' bone cells, nerve cells and skin cells. It would leave Lesli blind, deaf and severely brain-damaged. She spent 100 days in the hospital before her first birthday and has undergone more than 20 surgeries over the years, including an open-heart operation at 3 months that left her ribs broken.
Lesli has lived in a Houston-area group home since 2000. Dortha, 77, now lives in Oklahoma and visits as often as she can, about eight times a year. As the two hold hands, Dortha ponders whether her daughter knows who she is.
"I don't think she's aware that I'm her mother," she says. "I think she is aware that I'm someone special who cares about her."