Kenyon Kill had only one wish for Christmas.
The 9-year-old boy, who has been legally blind since birth, wanted to be able to see.
He was curious about what the gorilla at the zoo looked like as well as a real lion. He wanted to see his 7-year-old sister Carolina’s brown hair, the smile of his mother, Kris, and the goofy faces he’s told his father, Frank, likes to make. And there were those basketball games. If only he could watch — not just attend — a Lima Central Catholic basketball game coached by Dad.
Yes, miracles do happen around Christmas.
As of last week, Kenyon can now see all the beautiful things so many of us take for granted. The happy ending came with the arrival of a pair of special glasses from a Canadian company that is opening up a whole new world for the visually impaired. Getting to that point though for the Kills saw them travel a path filled with hope, anxiety, faith, tears and more tears.
16 weeks premature
Kris and Frank were married just four years in 2006 and looking forward to the birth of their first child when he surprised them by arriving at 24 weeks gestation. Kenyon would spend the next 87 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. It was during that three months that Kris and Frank noticed something was wrong with his eyes.
“They were shaking and his head-posturing didn’t seem right,” Kris said.
Kenyon would later be diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia, a condition which basically means that what Kenyon could see from six yards away, a person with normal vision could see from 130 yards.
For Frank, a highly competitive and star basketball player in both high school and college, those preconceived ideas he had about raising a son quickly fouled out of the game plan.
“As a father, you kind of have that male complex of wanting to play pitch and catch with your son,” Frank said. “But Kenyon’s legally blind without any depth perception. So being able to catch a football or pitch a baseball, it was impossible. He doesn’t know if it’s coming in fast or slow. For me, I always said I wanted a boy, now I just want a happy son. Sports is not everything. I have a great little buddy to prove that.”
‘A lost soul’
Kris and Frank realized early that Kenyon was smart, but knew the disability would make learning a struggle, so they enrolled him in preschool at age 3. They proudly watched his fighting spirit as he learned his numbers, colors and how to read. Then came that first day of kindergarten at St. Charles Elementary School and another reality check.
Frank recalled, “I asked Kenyon what he did for recess and he told me, ‘I just sat on the cement.’ When I asked why he wasn’t playing with his friends, he said, ‘Dad, I couldn’t find them. Everyone looks alike all dressed in blue shirts and white pants. I felt like a lost soul out there.’”
Frank and Kris cried that night — “a lost soul” — those words coming out of the mouth of a 6-year-old were stinging.
“Each stage of his life is about learning, frustrations. It’s about something we take for granted,” Kris said.
Always praying for strength and a better life for Kenyon, hope arrived 18 months ago at a support group meeting. That’s when Kris learned about a new company in Canada — eSight — and the special glasses they made for the visually impaired. The glasses consist of two components: A small computer and a digital headset that houses a high-definition camera. The camera is used to project a real-time video feed onto the lenses of the headset. After some ups and downs in trying to make contact with the company, the Kills learned an eSight representative would be in Cleveland and they were among those chosen to receive a demonstration.
A Christmas miracle
On Nov. 18, outside Progressive Field, a place where Cleveland Indian fans have waited years for miracles, one was about to happen to the Kills.
Kris and her mother, Rose Wherry, stood by Kenyon as a representative of eSight outfitted him with the headset. Frank, meanwhile, stood across the street holding up several fingers on his hand, which Kenyon was instructed to count. At 50 yards away, Kenyon answered correctly. Then 75 and eventually 100. Kris, meanwhile, was on the phone giving Frank the results.
“It was overwhelming,” Frank said. “As a parent, to be able to give your child an opportunity to see what he has been deprived of for the last nine years of his life … to open up a new world to him, I tell you, I just lost it.”
So did Kenyon, who blurted out he would cancel his Christmas order with Santa if he could get the glasses instead.
With the happiness, came anxiety. The glasses cost $15,000 with updates likely needed somewhere down the line. They knew going into the demonstration that Frank’s vision insurance wouldn’t pay anything toward the headset because it was new technology and wasn’t deemed “a medical necessity.”
“Driving home from Cleveland my mind was doing backflips as I tried to figure how I could get these for my son.” Frank said. “Whatever it took, or however long it would take, I knew we had to get these. I had faith in God and turned to him for strength.”
What happened in late November and early December was amazing.
Angie and Travis Plumley, a sister and brother-in-law of Kris, told Kenyon’s story on the social media sight YouCaring. Soon donations began rolling in from friends, friends of friends, family — even complete strangers.
At one point, Brandon Pardon, an old high school teammate of Frank’s on the 1997 Lincolnview state championship team, called to ask Frank how he could help, reminding him that they were a family then and remain a family today.
“I couldn’t get a word out, I was so choked up by his call.”said Frank.
Eleven days before Christmas, the glasses arrived at the Kill home and were followed later with a message from eSight. It reminded Kenyon that when he put the glasses on, he was “to compliment mom on her beauty and make fun of dad’s graying hair and bald line.”
Kris and Frank Kill will never forget Kenyon’s special Christmas.
“Our only regret,” Frank said, “is that we cannot get everybody who helped us in one room so we could give each of them a big hug and kiss.”