Jeanyth Richard, 11, suffers from keratoconus, an eye disorder that could cause her to lose her vision.
SEMINOLE – Diana Flory is determined to help a St. Lucia youth nicknamed “Nicey” save her eyesight.
The retired teacher, who has been to the Caribbean island about a dozen times since 2007, gets choked up when she looks at pictures of the girl trying to cope with her vision problems.
Flory hopes to bring Jeanyth Richard to Seminole to live with Flory and her husband while the 11-year-old undergoes treatment from a California specialist for a degenerative disease called keratoconus.
The total cost of the treatment and travel costs is about $30,000. To help raise funds for the medical procedures, the Florys are promoting a benefit concert July 20, 6 p.m., at the Edgewater Pines ROC Mobile Park clubhouse, 10399 67th Ave., featuring gospel and country style performers.
As a member of the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks Beach, Flory went to St. Lucia on a mission trip in 2007 and met Richard at a church function.
“I first met Nicey when she was about 5. Quite honestly, she is a very sweet lovable child. Very quiet,” she said.
Though she is bright and does well in school, Richard’s loss of vision in the past 15 months has changed her life, Flory said. Her friends and classmates refuse to play with her because she is considered different.
Flory began to notice that Richard’s eyes were causing her problems around Easter 2012 as she watched the girl read her part for a program.
“She was holding the paper up an inch or two in front of her left eye. It was like a lightning bolt hitting me. And it was God saying, ‘Diana, take note. She needs help.’ There was something seriously wrong. This was not just a child who needs glasses,” Flory said.
If the words of a hymn were displayed on the wall, the youth wouldn’t even look in that direction. The last day she was in St. Lucia, Flory asked permission from her mother to look into her eyes.
“What I saw were cone-like protrusions of her eyes. It sent chills down my spine,” she said.
Keratoconus causes the cornea, the outer clear window of the eye, to progressively herniate outward – turn cone shape. This causes the vision to become extremely distorted.
Flory began to do research online about the disease and found out that the recognized treatment is cornea transplants, which could cost $100,000, she said.
Then she came across the name of a doctor who invented a less invasive procedure that will stop the progression of the disease and restore the sight that has been lost.
Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, whose office is in Beverly Hills, Calif., pioneered the Holcomb C3-R procedure that is named after Steve Holcomb, an Olympic bobsledder who was legally blind due to keratoconus until Wachler treated him.
Holcomb regained 20/20 vision in 2007 after receiving C3-R treatment and implants, and in 2010 he became the first Olympic gold medalist in a bobsled event for the United States in 62 years, information provided by the doctor’s office said.
In the late 1990s Wachler was seeing an increase in patients referred to him for a cornea transplant. He wondered if a better option was available. Influenced by the work of others, he began the use of a cornea implant to help support the eye and reduce the herniated cone shape in patients with keratoconus, said Marie Norgaard, administrator for Boxer Wachler Vision.
Wachler used the procedure to help treat a patient, whose vision improved, but it did not stop the progressive condition. Pouring over journals, he came across some research by some doctors in Germany from the 1990s about a technique called cornea collagen crosslinking.
“He was fascinated because this seemed to be the ‘ah ha’ of treating keratoconus,” Norgaard said.
The technique appeared to arrest the progressive condition and in some cases reversed some of the cone shape. In 2003, Wachler developed his own proprietary version, which was more comfortable and non-invasive compared to the Germans’ technique. Wachler called his cornea collagen crossliking C3-R, Norgaard said.
She said the doctor and staff are proud to see that 10 years later 99.03 percent (of Wachler’s patients) have been fully stabilized and their vision improved by C3-R and another one of his procedure involving cornea implants.
Flory, too, has a lot of confidence in Wachler. A benefactor paid to fly Richard and her father to Barbados for testing. After going over the test results, Wachler has determined that Richard is a great candidate for the procedure, Flory said.
“As soon as we can get her here,” she said.
“Diana is really championing her cause,” Norgaard said.
Boxer Wachler Vision has reached out to a nonprofit organization to seek assistance for some of the costs and are waiting for a response.
Flory said she was told by a doctor it takes up to two months to get a medical visa cleared for Richard. The Florys have to prove they have the funds to pay for procedures so the child will not be a financial burden to the U.S. government.
“I was asked recently is there a point of no return. There is because if her cornea is ruptured, the only possibility then is cornea transplants,” Flory said.
Richards’ parents believe having Diana and Eward Flory become designated guardians and stay with them is in the best interests of the child, Flory said.
“They live in a neighborhood where parents struggle to feed their children. To come up with a large sum to pay for treatment is beyond comprehension,” Diana wrote in an announcement about the benefit concert.
The concert will feature the recording artists the McMillans, Ric Truett, Four Him and Span. Tickets are $10. Parking is available at the Bank of America, 6801 Seminole Blvd. A shuttle bus will take attendees the two blocks to the clubhouse and back. Call the Florys at 392-1647 for tickets.
The family will provide Richard with food and clothing if she is allowed to live with them. They are also raising money through garage sales, donations and other activities.
“Whatever it takes,” Flory said.
The love is evident.
“We went to see her on the way to the airport,” Flory said. “Her mother cried out to me and said Nicey was crying because I was leaving. And I went back and I told [Nicey], sweety, I said, every time I go back to the U.S., I take a part of you in my heart, Flory said. “I said in the same way, I’m leaving a part of me with you in your heart. She seemed to be OK with that.”