Family of NC teenager hopes to save his sight

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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Ten months ago, Jonathan Dase was a healthy teenage boy.

"He's great. He's kind. He's caring. He's loving," said Billie Dase, Jonathan's mom. "He loves football, loves the Air Force . he's just straight on."

But one night, while Jonathan was doing his homework in his Camp Lejeune home, the 15-year-old noticed something wrong with the vision in his right eye.

"It was just really blurry," Jonathan said. "I couldn't see."

Several weeks later, the problem with Jonathan's vision persisted and after numerous doctor appointments and testing, Billie said Jonathan's vision was down to 20/80 and doctors had diagnosed him with a rare eye disease.

"The ophthalmologist did testing on him and said he had keratoconus," she said. "I thought you know it was just some eye thing . they will give him contacts or eye glasses or eye drops and he'll be good to go but it was not that easy."

According to the National Keratoconus Foundation, keratoconus is a thinning disorder of the cornea that causes visual distortion. The condition causes the shape of the cornea to become irregular and cone-shaped, causing light eyes to enter the eye at different angles and resulting in blurred and distorted images.

Due to his condition, Billie said doctors had told Jonathan that he would have no chance of joining the Air Force — his dream since childhood — and he possibly had to give up his passion of playing football.

"Within five minutes, I'm sitting there watching my son's dreams get crushed," she said. ". I had to walk out of the room because I didn't want him to see me upset."

Billie said the non-FDA approved procedure Jonathan needs to correct the vision in his eyes will cost about $32,000, and Billie said her family just did not have that kind of money.

"Insurance will not cover anything that is not FDA approved," she said. "We tried fundraisers here in town. Hooters let us use their space for a carwash and we did — we were out there for four hours and only made $18 in donations."

Without options, Billie said she decided to turn to social media as a means of telling Jonathan's story and seek donations for his surgery.

"After we started doing fundraising on our own and realized we weren't going anywhere, we decided to start a GoFundMe," she said. "We posted it on Facebook, Instagram — I never had a Twitter until two weeks ago."

Billie said Jonathan's fundraising webpage was seen by a Beulaville woman named Brittany Jones after it went live and Jones had shared his story via her personal social media accounts.

"She went to Instagram with it," she said. "She tagged a whole bunch of different people and one of them happened to be Montel Williams."

Billie said it was "within no time" that she received word from Williams' representative telling the family to contact Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, an eye surgeon based out of Beverly Hills, California.

"When he called me at first, I thought this was a joke," she said. "But they were not joking . they are trying to spread awareness for keratoconus also."

According to Williams, he decided to share Jon's story because he believes it was what Jonathan deserved as part of the military family. "When I saw the post on my Instagram about Jon's story, I remembered having interviewed Dr. Boxer Wachler about the Keratoconus and the Holcomb C3R procedure," Williams said in an email. "I'm very grateful that he's stepped up and arranged to perform Jon's procedure for free."

Dr. Boxer Wachler said an anonymous donor had decided to sponsor the surgery for Jonathan.

"This one patient happened to see Jon's story and was really touched by it," Wachler said.

Today, Billie said her family continues to fundraise for Jonathan to help pay for the expenses that comes with the trip to Beverly Hills.

"Now our challenge is just getting to California . because it's not cheap," she said. "The whole reason I was told to keep the fundraising website was for the airline ticket, the cab fares, all the expenses and any unknown expenses that might arise."

Billie said the family is aiming to raise $10,000 and has raised about $1,980.

"Over the past couple of days, we have gotten tremendous amounts of support from the community and I cannot thank the community enough for their tremendous amount of support, donations and standing behind us," she said.

Meanwhile, Jonathan faces daily challenges associated with the condition.

"It makes school pretty hard because you really can't see much," he said. "You have to sit at the back of the classroom and you have to squint a little bit to see the board."

For Jonathan, this surgery would be life-changing.

"It means I can do more than I could without the surgery," he said. "(It means) I can drive because you have to have clear eye vision to drive."


Information from: The Daily News,

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