A New Beginning
It was the autumn of 1986 and Kittie Jo Palmer had just turned 22. “It all began on a Friday when my eyes started to burn after taking some ibuprofen.” She was taken to a local hospital and sent home with a diagnosis of pink eye.
By Monday her lips had broken out in blisters and her throat had swelled to the point that she could not swallow. A second trip to the ER resulted in her transfer to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY and a diagnosis: Stevens Johnson syndrome.
“Thankfully, I don’t remember much. They put me in isolation and then transferred me to the burn unit. My eyes hemorrhaged, I lost most of my fingernails and toenails. I had a high fever and most of my skin and mucus membranes blistered. But I survived.”
After she was well enough to return home, her eyes quickly went downhill: “I went from having good vision wearing glasses to not being able to see. I was constantly uncomfortable and could not stand light at all. It hurt so badly.” Stevens Johnson syndrome had spared her life, but had stolen her sight.
And for the next 16 years, Kittie Jo lived in the dark.
“I did not get to see the birth of my own children,” Kittie Jo recalls tearfully. She needed help with almost everything: “Without my family I don’t know what I would have done. Even easy stuff, like mixing formula and changing my baby’s diaper was really hard.” Simple pleasures such as taking her children outside to play were impossible.
Then in early 2002 her mother turned on Good Morning America and saw a BFS doctor – she called her daughter immediately. It took Kittie Jo another six months to work up the courage to call BFS and make the trip to Boston.
“The staff at the Foundation gave me new hope and a new beginning; and without their financial help I would still be sitting in a dark room. I would have missed out on so much.” Seeing the love on her fiancé David’s face when she walked down the aisle for the second time. Being there to witness her first grandbaby coming into the world. “It’s also the simple things like being able to read a book, and going for a walk outside on a sunny day.”
Kittie Jo also rediscovered her passion for crocheting; she started making blankets and branched out from there. Recently she sold some of her creations with the profits intended for BFS. “I do not have a lot to offer and wish I could give more. But if I can help make a difference in one person’s life, I will. I owe that to BFS.”
In August 2012, the 10th anniversary of regaining her sight, Kittie Jo made the trip to Boston with her mother-in-law, Fay, and granddaughter Emma, to see Dr. Johns and personally delivered a donation of $100 with a poem she had written. The next day they attended the SJS Kids Week barbecue, with 30 other families from around the world. “Fay was amazed and so touched when she saw these traumatized kids laughing and playing. Right then and there she took out her checkbook and wrote a $100 donation of her own.”
Looking back, Kittie Jo reflects, “As far as I am concerned, I am one of the richest people in the world. I have more love and support than I imagined possible. I had my vision. I lost it. And because of BFS I have it back. You cannot put a price on that."