After a Stroke, Marianne Wiggins Finishes Novel with Her Daughter’s Help: 'Miracles Do Happen' (Exclusive)

After author Marianne Wiggins suffered a major stroke, she couldn't see, walk or write. Her daughter helped her finish her bestselling novel, and now they’re hitting the road together

<p>Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Contour RA</p>

Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Contour RA

In 2016, famed author Marianne Wiggins suffered a massive stroke that robbed her of her memory and left her unable to see or walk. In this week's issue of PEOPLE, Wiggins and her daughter, Lara Porzak, share the story of Wiggins's hard-won recovery and their journey together finishing the last three chapters of her latest bestselling novel, Properties of Thirst.

“I’m hesitating so I don’t cheat on my gratitude. I’m trying to find words big enough,” says Pulitzer Prize-finalist author Wiggins, crossing her hands over her heart as she gazes at her daughter.

“You always say to me that I’m your person,” adds Porzak, wiping a tear from her mother’s cheek. “No, it’s more than that,” insists Wiggins. “You’re my family.”

It’s hard to believe that seven years ago, Wiggins and Porzak were barely on speaking terms. “Her books were always her most important relationships,” says Porzak, who is Wiggins’s only child with her first husband, Brian Porzak. (She divorced her second husband, Salman Rushdie, in 1993.)

That all changed in 2016, after Wiggins, now 75, suffered a massive stroke that robbed her of her memory, when she was just three chapters shy of completing her 11th book.

With Porzak’s help, Wiggins finished the bestselling novel, which was just released in paperback. “Sometimes mother-daughter relationships are tortured, especially if you get two artists together,” says Porzak, 56, a fine arts photographer. “But what we share is the belief that art can heal; sentence by sentence, word by word, beat by beat.”

<p>Alison Shaw</p> Marianne, Lara and their first dog Mugs in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., 1979

Alison Shaw

Marianne, Lara and their first dog Mugs in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., 1979

Porzak was working a photo shoot in San Francisco in June 2016 when she got the call telling her that Wiggins had suffered a stroke during a standard stent insertion following a mini heart attack. “It was the worst phone call I’ve ever received,” says Porzak, who rushed to Los Robles Regional Med-ical Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where tests revealed that Wiggins had suffered significant brain damage — leaving her unable to see, write or walk.

Porzak's faith in her mother was strengthened three days after the stroke. “She was still comatose, and she lifted her hand in the air and started motioning like she was writing. It was still in her to be a writer because that is who she is," says Porzak, who spent hours at her mother’s bedside reading to Wiggins from her unfinished novel. “I read it to her all day long and I realized, ‘Oh my God, this book is amazing. We have to finish it.’ ”

Related: Texas Boy, 12, Praised For Helping Save Mom's Life After She Had a Stroke While Doing Dishes

In October 2016, following several lengthy stays in rehab, Wiggins moved into Porzak’s Venice, Calif., apartment where, for three years, they focused on her recovery — including daily physical therapy sessions to relearn everything from how to brush her teeth to managing a wheelchair.

<p>Laura Porzak</p> Wiggins and Porzak working on the novel together, L.A., 2021

Laura Porzak

Wiggins and Porzak working on the novel together, L.A., 2021

Related: Daughter of Late Author Who Wrote Dating Profile for Husband Releases Book They Cowrote for Girls Everywhere

Finally, in 2019, they began working on the last three chapters of Wiggins’s book — with Porzak sorting through her mother’s notes and former projects and digging out phrases and sentences that she then “quilted and stitched” together.

“Marianne would eviscerate the sentences I wrote, and then we’d spend three days trying to come up with [one] adjective,” says Porzak.

It took three years of love, dedication —and “a lot of profanity,” jokes Porzak — to finish the book. “It feels amazing,” says Wiggins, who still has daily PT sessions and struggles with memory issues.

None of which has kept her from attending book signings and readings across multiple states. “Meeting my many readers has been an unexpected rush of adrenaline,” says Wiggins, who plans to write her next book on her own. “I believe in the power of the written word.”

Related: Tatum O’Neal On Her Near-Fatal Stroke: 'I Woke Up From a Coma Without Any Words'

<p>Lara Porzak</p> Wiggins holding up her newly published book, 2022

Lara Porzak

Wiggins holding up her newly published book, 2022

Porzak, who hopes to start focusing more on her photography, says, “I think this experience has taught my mom what family can be.”

“[It] has taught me appreciation for another," Wiggins says as she grabs her daughter’s arm.

Porzak smiles and nuzzles closer to her mom. “When you spend this much time with somebody, there has to be love and respect," she says, with a wink at her mom. “Respect, we’re working on it. But love, we’ve got it. This has brought us as close as we could ever be.”

For more about Marianne Wiggins and Lara Porzak, pick up a copy of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

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