Rita Calvo knew something wasn't right with her granddaughter Lauren's eyes. "When she was six weeks old, we realized she had a discoloration in one of her eyes," said Rita. The discovery came in 2009 during a family gathering on Memorial Day. Two days later, the Calvo family traveled from their home in Staten Island, NY to Boston, MA to see an ophthalmologist. The diagnosis was aniridia, a congenital deficiency categorized by the lack of an iris in the eye.
The news was heartbreaking for the entire Calvo family. "It's very difficult to explain the inner pain that you go through when you have a new baby that you have all the hope for," said Rita. "You want everything to be good for them."
Sadly, Lauren's condition led to even more complications, as she was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma, which results in elevated eye pressures and the obstruction of fluid outflow. In the six months after her initial diagnosis, Lauren had 11 surgeries to correct her vision.
With the surgeries mounting, the Calvo family knew they needed help. That's when Rita found Lighthouse International's Early Intervention program, which helps children with visual impairments. "That changed everything for us," said Rita. "It gave us an opportunity to realize that we're not alone."
In the spring of 2010, Lauren began working with a Lighthouse therapist who provided service coordination and vision services. With the help and support of her parents, Tom and Kim Calvo, Lauren slowly progressed with each session. In less than a year, she learned how to walk independently. "[Lauren's] therapists deserve all the accolades for her development," said Rita.
Seeing Lighthouse International help Lauren also inspired Rita to volunteer her time at the Lighthouse. "I decided to volunteer at the same time her therapy began and together we have traveled separate paths with the same goal," Rita said. "To learn, to help, to work, to love. I have found that and more at the Lighthouse."
Rita currently volunteers at The Lighthouse Store, helping people with low vision find the right products to make their day-to-day life easier. "You really start to see, especially once you work at the Lighthouse, how blessed we are," Rita said.
Rita also volunteered at Double Up 4 Vision, Lighthouse International's first 5K Tandem Bike Ride and Walk. The event, which took place in October 2010, paired people with and without sight on tandem bikes or as walking teams. Rita and her family walked from Riverside Park in Harlem to Pier i in Manhattan, NY in support of Lauren. "It was one of the highlights of my life, in terms of participating in something as a family," said Rita. "It brought us together." The Calvo family also raised over $20,000 in support of the Lighthouse so other children like Lauren can continue to receive services.
Through Double Up 4 Vision and Lauren's work with the Early Intervention program, a bond has been formed between the Calvo family and the Lighthouse. "I feel like I'm home when I'm [at the Lighthouse]," Rita said. "I've had that [feeling] from the first day I walked through the doors."
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