A Visionary Gift

By Tiffany Brown

Staff Writer

Monday, August 13, 2001

Lloyd Millanise doesn't know if can perform miracles. Today he will find out.

Rothchild Eye Institute | KeratoconusMillanise and his wife were on vacation in Jamaica in March when he picked up the Jamaican Star newspaper at a local store. The newspaper featured an article about a 9-year-old boy named Demar Brown who was going blind. The boy suffers from Keratoconus, a chronic vision disorder that occurs when the cornea - the front part of the eye - becomes thin and cone shaped. It causes an increased sensitivity to light, burning and vision distortion.

Demar's vision has gotten progressively worse over the last year. At this point he is only able to see light and dark and movement. As a result of his condition Demar had to drop out of school because he could no longer read the textbooks or see the chalkboard.

Millanise was captivated. He read the article over and over again. He just couldn't shake the story or the little boys face from his mind."I thought, 'what future is there for this boy if he can't read?'" said Millanise, who lives in Delray Beach.

Even after Millanise returned to his home in Delray Beach, he couldn't stop thinking about the boy. Then one night he made a call to Jamaica Air to see if they could get Demar to the United States for help.

"One night I told my wife that the Lord was leading me to the phone, and so I picked the phone and called Jamaica Air." Millanise said. The airline agreed to provide two complimentary tickets as long as someone paid for the taxes. Millanise began to realize his goal was possible.

At his next appointment with his eye specialist, Dr. Eric Rothchild, Millanise asked if the doctor would help. Rothchild immediately agreed to perform the surgery which costs about $15,000.

"I don't know why I didn't even hesitate," said Rothchild."I have three of my own children who are all boys, and they are about his (Demars) age. I thought it would be a good thing to do."

This is not the first time the doctor has reached out. He has done about 20 other complimentary surgeries for those who could not afford them in his 13 years of practice.

"I do what I can do. And if I can't help someone, I refer them to another specialist," Rothchild said.

With a few more phone calls, and an agreement with Demar's school to pay for the airline taxes, Millanise had the boy on his way to the United States.

Demar's aunt, Dian English, decided to accompany him because his parents were unable to afford the trip. Now Demar and English are staying with another aunt in Miami until the boys treatment is complete.

"Cornea transplant is probably one of the most delicate surgeries to perform on the eye. There is a chance of rejection especially with someone his age. But we're going to do whatever we need to do to make sure his postoperative care is taken care of.

"It's a great opportunity. If it wasn't for this, he'd probably go blind," English said.

Rothchild plans to perform the operation today at the Boca Raton Outpatient Surgical and Laser Center.

"He's going to have a cornea transplant in his left eye, and then after the eye is healed, we will discuss taking care of his right eye," he said.

Rothchild expects Demar's vision to be immediately improved. But as with all surgery, there are some risks involved," Rothchild said. Millanise said he is concerned that after Demar returns to Jamaica he will develop problems again because of pollution from the country's aluminum mines. He believes that the dust from there attributed to Demar's problems, because the boy's twin brother is now developing the same symptoms.

But there may be help on the horizon for children like Demar. In an effort to help children like Demar and his brother, Rothchild has decided to start a foundation called the Rothchild Eye Foundation for Children. He hopes to raise money to help children with vision problems get the eye care they need.

"We have set up a foundation that would help children that are disadvantaged or just don't have the means to get the medical care. So we can rehabilitate their situation and offer them the medical care that they need."

But Rothchild isn't just providing children with medical care, he is giving them the gift of sight. And for Demar that means he'll be able to see the things that matter most.

"I miss (seeing) my mom," he said.