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Seeing hope in stem cells

Parents turn to China for help

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2008

Through gentle prodding, Ashley Ford solicits a kiss from her 17-month-old son.

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"Will, can you blow me a kiss?" the Evans resident asked. "Give me a kiss, Will."

A precocious and playful boy, Will eagerly utters "muah" in the direction of the woman he has never seen.

Blind at birth, Will suffers from a rare defect called optic nerve hypoplasia. Essentially, his optic nerves failed to fully form while still in the womb.

"We were told there was nothing that could be done, that he'd be blind for the rest of his life," Ford said.

Initially crushed by the news relayed to her when Will was just a few months old, Ford refused to abide by the diagnosis.

"Ashley was great right from the start," said Jenny Ford, Will's paternal grandmother. "She just wouldn't accept the unacceptable."

Driven by hope, Ashley Ford used the Internet as a digital path to potential illumination for Will.

"I researched everything," she said. "I'd talk to someone who'd turn me on to a Web site and then that would lead to another Web site and then another."

Eventually, Ford learned of treatment for Will's condition in China using stem cells.

Harvested from umbilical cords, the stem cells can be injected into Will's spinal cord to regenerate his optic nerves, she said.

Telephone messages left for area medical professionals to discuss the procedure were not returned during recent weeks.

The procedure costs about $75,000, including travel expenses and lodging, said Ford, who will reside in Hangzhou City for a month with Will and her husband, Patrick. The money also covers the cost of a hyperbaric chamber needed for Will's rehabilitation after the procedure.

The Fords have raised thousands of dollars for the operation through charity events and their Web site, www.helpwillsee.org. Still, thousands more are needed.

Anyone wishing to donate to the Fords for Will's operation can send checks to William Joseph Ford, Georgia Bank & Trust, Attention: Kathy Eubanks, P.O. Box 127, Evans, GA 30809.

Despite his handicap, Will finds joy through music, his mother said.

"He has a little piano he loves," she said. "He's a happy boy."

Will's lack of sight also doesn't negate his ability to be a bit mischievous like other boys his age, Jenny Ford said.

"He's just a regular little boy," she said. "He doesn't know there's something wrong with him."

Still, Will's family desperately wants him to experience the wonders of colors and shapes.

"He's a sweet little angel," said his grandmother as a tear rolled down her cheek. "He deserves to see."



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