- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

HUMPHREY, Neb. (AP) - For Kayla Neeley, life is more than what meets the eyes.

The 17-year-old Humphrey High School senior will graduate in December, and then head to college as a pre-med major.

Sounds impressive on its own.

But Neeley was born with primary congenital glaucoma, meaning she has never been able to see normally.

“I was born without schlemm’s canals,” she told the Norfolk Daily News (https://bit.ly/1RugycO ). “They’re used to drain the fluid out of the eye.”

Surgery was required to implant them in her.

“Basically, it regulates the pressure in your eyes, so it keeps the pressure at a certain level. She was born with a very high pressure level,” said her father, Kirk.

Pressure levels are normally at 12-15 millimeters of mercury. Her left eye is in the 30s and in the high teens in her right eye.

Kirk explained the pressure as if the eye is a water balloon in a fixed space with the bony orbit around the eye. If it swells, there is pressure on the optic nerve to the brain.

The concern is that the pressure could damage or kill it off completely, meaning there would not be a signal from the optic nerve to the brain.

“Their (doctor’s) main goal is to keep the pressure at a good level,” she said.

Surgically, drain tubes were placed in the eyes with a plate behind the eye that it drains out onto. As pressure builds, it drains to make sure the pressure doesn’t get too great.

Kayla has had 10-11 surgeries so far - the first when she was 3 days old. She has more to come over time.

Her vision is 20/200 in the right eye, and her left eye, which has been the “good” eye at 20/400.

She reads by holding the words up close to her face. Holding a page three inches from her face, she can see well. It’s when images are farther away that she has trouble.

Work in the classroom means holding what she has to read up close to her face, putting it down to write the answer, and then picking it again to read the next question. That is the process over and over again.

That is how she took the ACT test the first time, and why she ran out of time before completing the test. She didn’t finish the test yet had a composite score of 27 out of 36. The next time she took the test, she was allowed extra time and scored a 34.

In November, she will also take the SAT college entrance exam because that’s one of the requirements of a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist - another impressive accomplishment.

A friend of her mother suggested she take the National Merit test, and Kayla didn’t think she did well.

“At the end I was glad I took it, but I wasn’t expecting anything to come of it,” she said.

There are about 1.5 million students across the country who take the National Merit test. From there, the top 50,000 are revealed. The list is then whittled down to the top 16,000 semifinalists, including Kayla. About half will eventually be awarded a scholarship through the program.

But this isn’t a story about someone overcoming a handicap, it’s a story of Kayla, who accepted what life dealt her, shrugged and kept right on going.

She has never been able to see the way most of us do, so Kayla does not miss her vision.

“You can’t miss something you’ve never had,” she said. “It’s never been something I’ve had to come to deal with. I never wanted it to hold me back, and I never let it hold me back. If I wanted to do something I never used that as an excuse. I went for it. That’s how I chose to live my life,” she said.

Kirk said he and his wife, Julie, who own the Madison Veterinary Clinic, and their older daughter, Ashley, have never treated Kayla differently.

“It’s not a disability to her, it’s a challenge to her, a challenge she overcomes,” he said. “She has to work harder, and her memory is tremendous. She can memorize a four-page speech and recite it verbatim.”

Kirk and Julie learned so quickly that Kayla’s vision wasn’t right that there wasn’t much time for worry or for hand-wringing.

“It happened so quickly, and we had a really good pediatrician who noticed it right away,” he said.

From the beginning, the Neeleys were determined Kayla would lead a normal life.

“We haven’t set her apart from anyone. There’s limitations, but she doesn’t really let the limitations slow her down from doing the things she wants to do,” he said.

What she wants to do next is head to college. She will start at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in January, where Ashley already is studying pre-pharmacy.

Leaving early for college will allow Ashley to show Kayla around campus and adjust to her new surroundings.

“She can live with her sister, and her sister can help her. That break-in period when you’re a freshman can be a little tough,” he said.

Kayla will be pre-med with a goal of becoming a psychiatrist.

“We basically let her do what she can do,” Kirk said. “We don’t step in unless she comes to us with a problem, which is very, very rarely.”


Information from: Norfolk Daily News, https://www.norfolkdailynews.com

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