Boca Raton, FL - August 1, 2001
In his native Jamaica, 10-year-old Demar Brown was going blind, each eye turning into an opaque mass.
His family expected that Demar, the child of an unemployed laborer and a market vendor, would most surely be blind for life. He had already dropped out of school, unable to function with a diseased eyeball that itched and burned in its socket.
Then a chain of events linked Demar's fate with a chance visitor from Delray Beach and a shooting victim somewhere in the United States. Demar ended up on an operating table Monday at an eye clinic in Boca Raton, receiving for free a cornea transplant that normally costs $15,000.
The visitor was Lloyd Millanise, who has lived stateside for the past 21 years and visited the old country in the spring. The owner of a coin laundry in Boynton Beach, Millanise came across Demar's picture in a Jamaican newspaper story about his condition.
"It just made an impact on me, just like a crater," Millanise said."I could not get it off my mind."
He hung on to the article and brought it back to his Delray Beach home. He showed it to his eye doctor, asking what could be done for the boy he had never met.
The ophthalmologist, Eric Rothchild, said he has performed free eye surgeries for some 20 needy people in his 18 years of practice. He said he could diagnose the boy, but someone would need to bring the patient to his clinic in Boca Raton.
Millanise didn't know anything about the boy except what he read in the Jamaican newspaper: that Demar had dropped out of the Ewar-ton Primary School. So he called the school to get in touch with the boy's family.
Next, he called Air Jamaica and arranged for free airline tickets for the boy and an aunt who would accompany him to Florida. The pair has been staying with Demar's other aunt in Miramar.
In the past month, the aunt in Florida saw Demar's deteriorated condition.
"It burns and itches and runs," Paulette White said in the waiting room of Rothchild's clinic.
Demar is suffering from a degenerative disease called keratoconus, which elongates the eyeball and scars the outer eye into a smoky haze, Rothchild said. All Demar can see now is unfocused, shadowy movements.
The vision in Demar's left eye tested at worse than 20/400, which means objects 20 feet away appear to be more than 400 feet away, Rothchild said. The right eye is 20/400. After the cornea transplant, his vision will be 20/80 at best and require eyeglasses, Rothchild said.
The only solution: giving Demar two new corneas. Cost: $15,000.
The cornea came from an eye bank in Miami, Rothchild said. The organ belonged to a 21-year-old who died last week from gunshot wounds to the head. The donor's identity and hometown were not released.
Demar's operation is just the beginning of a long - and expensive - healing process. Demar has to wait at least six months, possibly a year, while his left eye heals, before getting his next transplant. The boy is returning to Jamaica next month but will have to come back to Boca Raton six to nine times after that, Rothchild said. The cornea has to match the recipient's blood type and must be transplanted within a week, while the cells are viable.
To help pay for proper long-term care, Rothchild created a nonprofit foundation to accept charitable contributions.
There's a chance that Demar's body will reject the alien tissue sutured to his eyeball, which could force another transplant.
Rothchild said he'd also like to help Demar's twin brother back home, who is developing the same eye problems.
Palm Beach Post