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Assaulted teen may regain her sight

TAMPA — The teenager beaten and raped at Bloomingdale Regional Library in April can see light and shadows, and may regain her sight if her brain heals properly, the teen's family learned this week.

A neuro-ophthalmologist examined the teen Thursday and determined that there was no optical damage, her mother said. She has about 10 percent of her vision, but with time and good fortune, she may one day see again, said the mother, who is not being identified because of the nature of the crime.

"It is exciting news," her mother said in Vietnamese. "I want to thank everyone for their prayers and ask that the public keeps praying for her 100 percent recovery."

Her daughter, an 18-year-old East Bay High School student, was attacked weeks before graduation. The teen gradually lost her vision and the ability to talk, walk and move when she suffered multiple strokes after her attacker tried to strangle her.

She has been in a rehabilitation hospital trying to relearn everything. She communicates by squeezing her mother's hand.

After the April 24 attack, as deputies interviewed her at her hospital bed, she cried often, asking why she could not see. All she remembered was talking on the cell phone with a girlfriend as she returned two library books. A day later, the swelling on her brain spread, trapping her inside her motionless body.

The loss of sight weighed heavily on her mother's heart and mind.

The night before the vision test, the mother sent out text messages and e-mails to close friends, asking for extra prayers.

As he was running tests, the doctor asked the mother what type of student the teen was.

"All A's," the mother said proudly. "Honor roll."

Her daughter had been accepted to the University of Florida on a scholarship before the assault.

The authorities say she was attacked by Kendrick Morris, a 16-year-old Clair-Mel teen. He has been charged as an adult in connection with two rapes — one at the library and another of a 61-year-old woman at a day care near his home in June.

He remains in jail without bail on nine felony charges.

A leading neuro-ophthalmologist who has not examined the teen spoke generally about patients who lose their sight due to brain injuries. Dr. Ron Braswell, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said regaining sight from brain injuries is a slow process.

"Nerve tissues do not like to heal," he said. "But what she has on her side is that she is a young patient. Young patients do tend to heal, but it takes time."

Whatever sight patients do regain happens gradually. The patient's ability to see between six months to a year after a brain injury is usually the level of vision that will be recovered, Braswell said.

"Head trauma is a very hard thing to deal with," he said. "We do have some very miraculous success stories."

Braswell said that recovery is determined not just as a result of medicine or science, but attitude as well.

"A patient that wants to get better will find a way," he said. "It takes a lot of love and patience for these patients."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 269-5312 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

Events to help teenager

A number of fundraisers are planned both locally and around the country by strangers who have been moved by the tragedy. Car washes and bake sales, by Vietnamese Student Associations, will take place in California and Minnesota. Here are some in the Tampa Bay area:

• Sept. 27: Fashion for Compassion. Entertainment, food, beverages and a fashion show at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St. 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are $20 online at: fashionforcompassion.eventbrite.com; $25 if purchased at the door. The organizers are looking for sponsors. For more information, contact Michelle Phan at (813) 943-6305.

• Sept. 29: Bleu Salon in Valrico will open its doors from 12 to 5 p.m. All haircuts, minimanicures and pedicures, 15-minute massages and waxing will go toward donations. Bleu is at Lithia Crossings Plaza, 3472 Lithia Pinecrest Road. Call (813) 651-4020 or visit www.bleusalonandspa.com.

• Oct. 3: Fundraising dinner at 7:30 p.m. at Kobe Japanese Steak House, 14401 N Dale Mabry Highway. Sponsored by the Vietnamese Association of Tampa.

• Oct. 18: Spaghetti dinner hosted by Brentwood Estates Activities Committee and American Land Lease. Suggested donation is $10. The open house will be at the Brentwood Estates clubhouse at 9920 Princess Lane in Hudson from noon to 6 p.m. For more information, contact Linda Jankowski at (727) 862-6922.

The family also has a fund set up at SunTrust Bank. To make a donation, go to any SunTrust Bank branch and request the money go to the Bloomingdale Library Assault Fund.

Assaulted teen may regain her sight 09/05/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 12, 2008 5:50pm]
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