Norma Stewart of Milltown hopes that someday her daughter, Nikki, a legally blind but very bright toddler, will be able to remember what red balloons and fluffy kitty cats look like.
Nikki, who will be three in October, suffers from cloudy corneas and glaucoma, yet she is eager to learn and outstanding at preschool learning exercises.
Nikki’s teachers say that she needs a computer to advance her education and expose her to more visual experiences while it’s still possible, but her parents, who have a limited income that has been stretched thin by medical expenses, cannot afford it.
Nikki’s mother, who fears her daughter’s vision will be totally gone someday, contacted the Ramsey Lions Club for help. Although the club cannot provide a computer, it hopes the national Lions organization will be able to help with Nikki’s next transplant, said Lions Club member Bea Oppel.
Sierra Nicole (Nikki) Stewart has already had three cornea transplants and other procedures, and now she needs another transplant.
In Nikki’s “good” eye, she has only 20/60 vision.
Because of Nikki’s eye problems, she has been a part of pro-active programs to help advance her skills. Nikki is taught by teachers from the First Steps program and from the Visually Impaired Preschool Service, and they say a computer is vital for her education. First Steps is a state program that provides developmental assistance to high-risk children.
Melinda Adkins of the Visually Impaired Preschool Service has told Norma that Nikki was so advanced that she was ready for a computer to help accelerate her learning, and her teachers at First Steps agree.
“She is like a sponge,” Norma said. “She wants to learn everything.”
Nikki’s teachers come to Eddie and Norma Stewart’s home in a remote area outside Milltown to work with the child because she cannot be in confined spaces with other children. Anti-rejection medications for the cornea transplants leave her very susceptible to illness.
The teachers work with Nikki on things such as hand/eye coordination, textures, shapes and colors, Norma said. Although she is legally blind, Nikki still has some vague vision, but she must get very close to items to see them.
This is why a computer can be helpful, Norma said. Teachers have suggested any type of computer that can be maintained with programs appropriate for preschool, kindergarten or first-grade level applications.
Norma said a 19-inch monitor to go along with the computer is necessary. A 17-inch is too small, and she fears that the toddler will get lost in the space of a screen larger than 19 inches.
“If she didn’t have a computer, I feel it would be a setback,” Norma said. “I would hate to see it compromise her learning.”
Norma works part-time at a doctor’s office in Marengo, and Eddie is retired from the Louisville Police Dept. They moved to Milltown from Louisville six years ago “to get away from the big city.”
Nikki must be cared for by one of her parents, Norma said, because a day-care could not be trusted to stick to the stringent schedule for Nikki’s medications.
Their part-time income, retirement pay, and expensive medical bills from surgeries and opthamologists have left the Stewarts in financial difficulty.
When Stewart contacted the Ramsey Lions Club looking for help, Oppel was torn by Nikki’s need for both a cornea transplant and a computer.
“My granddaughter is 17 days younger than this girl,” Oppel said, “so this wrings my heart.
“The lady who works with the little girl said the girl is highly intelligent. She needs a computer, something she can get close to.”
Oppel said she would love to see someone in the community donate one.
Norma said Nikki has been to Kosair Children’s Hospital about 30 times, she sees four different opthamologists, and may have her next cornea transplant in Boston by a pediatric cornea transplant physician.
A cornea transplant, though very serious, is not as complicated as that of a kidney or heart. Corneas (which for Nikki must come from an infant or small child) are more readily available and easier to match.
Norma said, “We have always been stretching to expose her, so just in case sometime down the road she loses what vision she does have, she can remember.”
She understands that it may be difficult for some people to understand why a two- or three-year-old needs a computer, but Nikki “is ready,” Norma said.
Anyone interested in donating a computer for Nikki Stewart should call Eddie or Norma Stewart at 633-4844 or Ramsey Lions Club Secretary Wanda Wiseman at 347-2888.