Honduran girl with damaged eye finds healing in GA - KMSP-TV

Honduran girl with damaged eye finds healing in GA

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It was a small thing, the first time Jelmi Zepeda was fitted with her new eye. But for Steve Micham, it was beautiful.

He first saw Jelmi four years ago, on a mission trip to Choleteca, Honduras, with his non-profit, the Way and the Truth Ministry.

He says, "It struck me the fact that she was sitting all by herself. All of the kids were together, just effortless interacting, and Jelmi was just sitting on a curb. Very quiet."

At 13, Jelmi was hit by a rock and blinded in her right eye. That's when something broke.

She became isolated, teased so badly by the other students, she dropped out of school.

Micham decided he had to help Jelmi.

But when he went back the next day, he says, "She wasn't there. And the next year, she wasn't there. And the year after that, she wasn't there. Finally, we were there (last summer), and she was back! And she was standing there holding a baby."

The missionaries asked Jelmi's pastor, Fidel Bardales, to ask Jelmi is she'd be willing to come to Georgia, to be fitted

for an artificial eye. Bardales says, "When they told me that, I saw the open door."

To Micham, this was about more than an eye prosthesis. He says, "She'll never have the sight back in that eye. But she won't be seen as a disadvantaged person.

Jelmi, speaking through a translator said, "I feel so happy because the people who treat me bad, they will not treat me bad anymore."

The Lions Club of Alpharetta paid Jelmi's travel expenses, to come see ocularist Tal Cox. He specializes in creating, and custom-fitting artificial eyes. For Jelmi, he's creating a "scleral shell," a curved prosthetic that will fit - like a very thick contact lens - right over the front of her blind eye.

Cox says, "We try to do an exact match of the fellow eye."

The scleral shell doesn't hurt, and Jelmi will gradually learn to move it, like her other eye, with her eye muscles.

Cox wants it to look exactly like the real thing.

So he shapes it, attaches tiny red fibers to create veins in the white of the eye, and tweaks the color to get the exact brown gold mixture in Jelmi's iris.

Then he matches her pupil size.

The whole time, for hours, he's constantly checking his work against the real thing.

As he finished, and cooks the acrylic shell, he says, "It's going to be a big change, just to see her face, the initial fitting."

When the eye is put in, Jelmi looks in the mirror and smiles.

A year of waiting. The 1,300 mile trip. It was all worth it. Pastor Fidel says, "I think this is the beginning…"

Because Jelmi Zepeda can look people in the eyes again, proud, and knowing, Steve Micham says, "That she is loved, that people really do care about her, and that she's beautiful.

Cox donated his time and materials – to create an artificial eye that would typically cost about $2400. Jelmi will fly home from Georgia Thursday morning. In the meantime, Micham says, she can't stop staring at her reflection in his living room mirror.

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