Tim Pannell/Fuse/Thinkstock(CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.) — A viral post on social media is being credited with helping give a North Carolina teen a chance to get surgery that might save his sight.
Jonathan Dase, 15, said he’s “excited” to get an operation that may give him a chance at the career he dreamed of: joining the Air Force.
Jonathan, of Camp Lejeune, N.C., suffers from keratoconus, a degenerative eye disease that occurs when the collagen in the cornea starts to weaken. As the collagen weakens, the cornea starts to bulge out, causing vision problems including blurred sight and double vision.
He was diagnosed just months ago after he first started to notice vision from his right eye was blurry.
Jonathan’s mother Billie Dase said she initially didn’t think much of it.
“Being a teenage boy, I thought he was trying to get out of doing homework,” she said.
After the high school sophomore’s sight problems continued for several days, Dase took Jonathan to eye doctors. He eventually was diagnosed with keratoconus.
The diagnosis meant Jonathan would not be able to drive a car, play football or ever serve in any branch of the military.
“He looked at me that look like ‘Mom, do something,'” Dase recalled after her son heard the diagnosis. “I knew there was nothing that I could do…and I started to feel myself get upset. I excused myself from the room and let out my tears.”
Doctors gave few options for Jonathan. One was a cornea transplant that would happen after his eyesight had deteriorated further. The operation is invasive and in rare cases can result in blindness.
Another was a less invasive treatment that involved a small implant and a specialized vitamin to strengthen the collagen.
Dase said that the second procedure was not going to be fully covered by insurance, so the family started working on fundraising for the surgery. Jonathan’s eyesight had worsened tremendously in just a few months from perfect 20/20 vision to 20/80 vision.
After three months of fundraisers, Dase said the family got “nowhere.” Finally the family set up an online fundraiser page and started to post Jonathan’s story on Facebook and Instagram. The wife of another military member saw the post and started tweeting them to celebrities who had been former military members.
One of the respondents was former-talk show host Montel Williams. A former Marine, Williams immediately got the family in touch with Los Angeles ophthalmologist Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, who specializes in the delicate eye surgery Jonathan needs and whom Williams had interviewed for his show.
“I knew I had to do something and I just happened to remember having interviewed a doctor who was a leading specialist in treating Jon’s condition, so I connected them,” read an emailed statement from Willliams. “As a veteran, I know the sacrifices this family makes daily. In their time of need, a family that represents the best of us deserves the best care available and they found that in Dr. Boxer Wachler.”
After local news reports began to report on the story, Dase said money started to pour in to the online fundraising page.
Boxer Wachler said he also looked into fundraising for the surgery.
“We had put out information to our own community and had a donor step up and donate funds for Jonathan’s procedures,” Boxer Wachler told ABC News.
During two procedures, Dase will have a small implant put into his eye to correct the bulging cornea and have a special solution made from UV light-sensitive vitamins that will strengthen the collagen in Jonathan’s eye.
Since their online fundraising took off, the family now has more than enough money to cover the family’s expenses to fly to Los Angeles and stay at a hotel and help with Jonathan’s recovery, Dase said.
Jonathan now has hope he’ll be able to get to do all the things he had planned on, Dase said. She said her plan is now to work on getting the military to not exempt Jonathan solely on his diagnosis.
“The next process after the surgery is try to get the policy overturned,” Dase said.
Williams said he might be able to help the family again with that effort. He told ABC News through email he was going to contact senior military members about the policy.
“It’s a policy in my view, that is in need of updating,” Williams said.
For Jonathan, the surgery is exciting because it will let him get back to the life he had before the diagnosis including “being able to drive and play football again.”
“It was really cool,” Jonathan said of the post that will lead him to get sight-saving surgery.
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