"People see my little girl and think she's a tragedy," said Sandy Dean of Girard. "But she is a miracle."
Elizabeth is, indeed, a miracle of the most wonderful kind.
Jason and Sandy Dean were thrilled when they found out they were having twins. Their anticipation was short-lived. Twenty-seven weeks into the pregnancy, Elizabeth and her twin brother, Jacob, were born.
Elizabeth weighed less than 2 pounds. Jacob weighed 2 pounds 7 ounces.
Jacob spent three months in the hospital. When he came home, he was a healthy, vibrant baby.
Elizabeth spent seven months in the hospital. She came home a healthy, vibrant baby as well.
She just could not see.
Result of prematurity
Elizabeth's diagnosis is called retinopathy of prematurity. Her retinas separated from her eyeballs, causing blindness.
The twins are 2 now. Jacob runs and bounces around the house like a rambunctious little boy.
"Bethy," as Jacob calls his sister, also bounces -- on her mother's lap. Bethy does not walk yet.
"She has never seen anyone walk," Sandy explains. "So she doesn't know how to do it."
Bethy also doesn't eat well.
"She can't see what I'm putting in her mouth," Sandy said. "She doesn't like the texture."
Bethy doesn't talk much either.
"She can't see our lips move," Sandy said. "She's not sure how to make the words."
Sandy was concerned about Elizabeth's lack of progress. Being a parent with sight, she never experienced the hardships of blindness.
As Sandy began to notice the differences in Jacob and Elizabeth's development, she searched for help and advice. Neither was easy to find.
After calling many agencies and social service centers, a friend told Sandy about Eye Deal Connection in Warren.
Eye Deal provides mobility training, Braille instruction, technology skills as well as techniques for accomplishing daily tasks such as pouring a cup of hot water.
April Reisinger founded Eye Deal Connection in 1996.
"After the Society for the Blind closed, there was a gap in services," April said.
She was determined to fill that gap.
April's resolve to help the blind is both personal and mission-oriented.
April is blind. She is compelled to help others in the same way that she has been helped.
April remembered three blind men who inspired her as a child. ("Yes, they were three blind men," April assured me.)
"You're going to college," one of them told her. And she did.
Today, April is inspiring others.
"A mother called me," April remembered. When the woman realized that April was blind, she began to cry. "If you have a job and you're blind, then there is hope for my baby."
April and the staff at Eye Deal have given the Dean family hope and inspiration.
When Sandy asked about Elizabeth's eating, walking and talking progress, April assured her all of this is normal for a blind child.
As Sandy begins teaching Jacob his alphabet, she wonders how Elizabeth will learn her ABCs.
Eye Deal will teach both Elizabeth and Sandy Braille.
Or so they hope ...
Eye Deal is funded through private donations. Serious funding issues have Eye Deal on the brink of extinction.
"We want to be here to provide teaching and socialization skills to people like Elizabeth," April said.
"There is nothing else for Elizabeth," Sandy said sadly. "I want her to be the most functioning adult she can be."
Having a blind child is not a tragedy. Not having services for the blind child is.
While April works to procure funding for Eye Deal, Sandy waits expectantly for a second miracle for her miraculous child.
XEye Deal Connection is at 1400 Tod Ave. Ste. 201, Warren 44485. Phone: (330) 372-3325.