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 [email protected]