THE DOCTORS said it couldn't be done.

A pregnant woman couldn't have open-heart surgery and expect to deliver healthy twins, let alone survive herself.

That was 39 years ago, and JoAnne Louise Allen proved the doctors wrong. She survived the surgery at Penn Presbyterian Hospital - to replace a heart valve - and gave birth to a boy and a girl. Everybody was doing fine.

JoAnne Louise went on to a life devoted to her family, to her church and to helping others.

"She was very much a very humble servant," said one of those twins, Hugh Allen, vice president of the National Constitution Center.

JoAnne Louise Allen, the former JoAnne Owens, an administrative assistant for Paychex Payroll Services in Audubon, died Sunday after being badly injured in a car crash in Royersford on May 6. She was 70 and lived in Royersford.

Her son said his mother apparently collapsed at the wheel of her car and struck a tree.

But the same determination that got her through the dangerous medical crisis 39 years ago led her family to believe she might overcome this setback.

"In the last two weeks, I thought she would pull through," Hugh said. But it wasn't to be.

Recently, JoAnne began volunteering at a homeless shelter in Norristown. She would take food to the residents and otherwise care for them.

"The general theme of her life was serving others," her son said.

JoAnne remembered that her son had served up some terrific baked ziti, and she thought her charges at the homeless center would enjoy it. So she asked him for the recipe.

"I didn't want to tell her I got the recipe off the box of ziti, but I sent it to her anyway," he said. "She said the residents loved it."

Since her death, Hugh said, friends and neighbors have been coming by to express their sympathy.

"The neighbors told us how much they loved her smile," Hugh said.

He said that his mother's "center of gravity" was her family and that she was happiest being with her five children and eventually her grandchildren.

She was married for 45 years to Harry Charles Allen, who died in 2006.

JoAnne was born and raised in East Lansdowne, where she attended St. Cyril of Alexandria parochial school. She graduated from Villa Maria Academy in Malvern.

Before going to work for Paychex 10 years ago, JoAnne worked for a semiconductor firm that produced the Commodore 64 personal computer.

After moving to Royersford, JoAnne became active with Sacred Heart Church, where she was a eucharistic minister and involved in other church activities.

JoAnne was proud of Hugh's title at the Constitution Center, but, he said, titles didn't mean much to her. "You could be a CEO, a vice president, it didn't matter. What mattered was how you performed and what you accomplished," Hugh said.

Recently, JoAnne was happy to reconnect with women she had known in school, finding each other on Facebook. They had regular get-togethers at their homes, renewing acquaintances and talking about the old days.

Besides her son, she is survived by two other sons, Harry and Douglas Allen; two daughters, Amy Collins and Hugh's twin, JoAnne Dahl; two sisters, Patricia Carr and Carol Cleary, and 10 grandchildren.

Services: Memorial Mass 10 a.m. today at Sacred Heart Church, Lewis Road and Walnut Street, Royersford. Friends may call at 9:30 a.m. Burial will be private.