When little Richie Lopez of Mesa, Arizona was born, his family was overcome with emotion at meeting their newest little addition. Everything seemed to be going well after delivery, until a few hours later, mom Kelly had realized that her newborn son had yet to open his tiny little eyes. Hospital staff chalked it up to thinking that Richie’s face was just a bit swollen from birth. However, thirteen days later when an MRI was done, the Lopez family learned that their son did not have any eyes.
Kelly recalls the moment she and her family found out, “I think we were just in shock. Obviously very upsetting. The first thought through your mind is, how did this even happen and how was it not even caught?” The family still does not have answers to why their son was born without eyes, and doctors have said such a condition is extremely rare. At just seven weeks old, expanders were placed into the child’s eye sockets, which enable the socket to grow in hopes of someday being able to hold a prosthetic eyeball.
The expanders were held in place with sutures, however, when Richie was being fed or burped, he had managed to rub them out. In one particularly harrowing incident, the family dog got one of the expanders and ate it, while Kelly was able to find the other one, which she knew she had to re-insert into her son’s eye socket. It was 2 a.m., and Lopez was on the phone with a surgeon who was able to guide her through the process of re-inserting the expander. She recalls how hard it was, “It was so emotional, but I knew I had to do it. I knew that he needed this and I had no other choice; we were going to get it back in.”
While the family has remained resilient and adapted a positive outlook, they are still learning how to deal with negative and insensitive comments from the general public. The three month-old now wears a pair of baby sunglasses when he goes out.
Richie is currently enrolled in special developmental programs that are designed for blind infants, and he is already playing well with specially designed toys. The Lopez family are determined to give their son a fulfilling life, despite the challenges he may face.
While Richie was born without eyes, an optic nerve is present, which gives the family hope that their son will one day be able to see. Kelly said, “That would be amazing. I do hope that one day they’ll be able to either grow an eye or transplant an eye.”