Former Jefferson resident in the media spotlight
By ANDREW MCGINN
It’s understandable if Kelly Lopez hasn’t had time yet to start a baby book for her son, Richie, who came into the world barely just four months ago.
A working mom with two other kids, the Jefferson native formerly known as Kelly McEvoy obviously doesn’t have much free time.
But the first page of Richie’s baby book might read something like this:
I arrived on: Oct. 16, 2014
My weight: 8 pounds, 2 ounces
My eye color: N/A
Now about 4 months of age, Richie is a normal, healthy baby in every way but two.
“He just doesn’t have eyes,” Kelly Lopez said matter-of-factly Wednesday morning from Arizona on her drive in to work at an electric company, where she works in human resources.
Lopez, 38, has made peace with her son’s rare condition — by some estimates, it’s as rare as 1 out of every 5 million to 10 million births — but the past four months have been a whirlwind of examinations and surgeries.
“When he was first born, I’d never heard of it,” Lopez confessed. “I tried Googling, ‘Baby born without eyes.’ ”
In an attempt to connect with somebody, anybody, in a similar situation, Lopez last month contacted a local TV station in Phoenix.
“Maybe I can reach a doctor with some familiarity of the situation,” she thought.
“I figured it could be nothing but a good thing to get the story out there,” she said.
The story has since gone global.
It’s been on CNN. It’s been on the website of USA Today. Numerous TV stations across the country have glommed on to it.
Last week, the website for the Daily Mail, the British tabloid, cried out, “Baby born without EYES,” as if urging people to step right up and click on the story about the baby born with TWO HEADS or the baby born with LOBSTER CLAWS.
“He’s pretty much like any other baby,” Lopez explained. “Right now, I hope he’s going to lead a normal life.”
Lopez is no stranger to adversity.
Her mother, Janice McEvoy, relocated to Arizona from Jefferson not long after the sudden death of Richard McEvoy, the family patriarch, in 1988.
Richard McEvoy — for whom Richie is named — died of a heart attack that spring at age 42.
“He was at my softball game the night before,” Lopez recalled. “It was two days before Rick’s graduation.”
Rick McEvoy, her older brother, graduated in 1988 from Jefferson-Scranton High School.
How Lopez ended up meeting her husband of almost 19 years, Javier Lopez, is almost a story in itself.
During Desert Storm, when kids by the thousands dashed off pen pal letters to random soldiers, her letter ended up in the hands of a young Army mechanic in the Gulf.
Not only did he write back, they kept in touch.
“I sent him my senior picture and that changed everything,” Lopez said.
The couple eventually settled into suburban life in Mesa, Ariz.
Javier Lopez works as a plumber. Their daughters, ages 5 and 13, are in good health.
Nothing at all would seem to suggest that something might go wrong with their third pregnancy.
“I had a healthy pregnancy,” Lopez said. “I was heavily monitored. I’m 38, but I’m considered old to be having a baby.”
Hours after Richie’s delivery, Lopez knew something wasn’t right.
“This just doesn’t seem normal,” she remembers thinking. “Both of my girls opened their eyes right after they came out.”
“I knew something was wrong,” she said.
Richie wasn’t opening his eyes, and no one could get a good look to see what might be the issue.
Finally, at 13 days, the MRI confirmed it: Richie was born without eyes.
“It’s very overwhelming,” Lopez said. “I tried to prepare myself for the worst-case scenario.”
She cried for weeks after.
With tears in his own eyes, her obstetrician questioned whether Richie’s disorder — officially known as anophthalmia, the absence of one or both eyes — should have or could have been caught before birth.
“He just felt horrible,” Lopez said. “He contacted all his doctor friends to see if they’d heard of it.”
In reality, not one of the 10 to 12 ultrasounds Lopez had during her pregnancy would have alerted doctors to the absence of eyes.
“You just can’t see small, fluid-filled tissue on an ultrasound,” Lopez said.
At seven weeks, Richie underwent a two-hour surgery to place expanders and conformers in his sockets — things that eventually will be needed to accommodate prosthetic eyeballs.
Richie’s 13-year-old sister reasoned that, “Mom, if he doesn’t have eyes, he won’t ever have a family.”
But that’s not true.
While they’ve been told the science doesn’t yet exist in the U.S. for eyes to be grown or transplanted, it’s their goal that Richie learns to be as self-sufficient as millions of other blind people.
The trick for Lopez is not to think too far into the future.
“There’s a thousand things running through your mind at one second,” she said. “We just try to stay as positive as we can.”