As We See It

Jackson County Question 1 can change lives, improve health

Updated: 2013-10-27T05:02:23Z

By David Westbrook and Emily Mallette

Special to The Star

My name is David Westbrook. I was born at Saint Luke’s Hospital 64 years ago. I am now a senior executive at Children’s Mercy. I am also blind.

As a child, I loved to learn. I read virtually every book in the school library. But by the age of 12, I could no longer see the chalk lines on the blackboard. I was eventually diagnosed with juvenile glaucoma and underwent eight painful eye surgeries. I spent months in hospital beds, 600 miles away from my home in Kansas City, with sandbags around my head to keep me still. Yet, by age 17, I was totally blind.

My name is Emily Mallette, I am 17 and a high school student in Lee’s Summit. When I was 8, I had trouble seeing the board at school, things like that. At Children’s Mercy they diagnosed me with juvenile glaucoma. Since then, I have had eight different eye surgeries. I still can’t drive, and that’s hard being a teenager, but my vision is stable and we’re managing it.

I’m very hopeful that one day there will be a cure that can restore my vision.

David: Although today I consider my blindness to be a privilege and a sort of peculiar gift, the process of becoming blind did not take place without struggle, disappointment and grief. Grief that I hope young people in the future will not have to endure.

While there is no definitive cure for Emily’s glaucoma, there is new care. And as a result of being the beneficiary of that new care — care developed because of vital research — Emily — unlike me — can see.

And unlike my surgery, Emily’s operations were not performed with blades of steel, but with beams of light in less invasive outpatient procedures. And perhaps most important of all, Emily’s surgery was preceded by the right diagnosis performed by physicians who are also research scientists focusing on translating discoveries to new and better medicines, surgeries and care.

Emily: I wish I could just snap my fingers and wake up one day and be completely healed. If I found out that Question 1 has passed, I would be very hopeful and optimistic for the future, and I would be very grateful. My vision’s at stake, my future, my ability to succeed in life. Research can really change someone’s life.

David: Over the decades, research has built the bridge between effort and evidence. We will never cease our efforts to offer the best care possible for the most important of our vulnerable populations: our children. Now, though, that effort is matched by evidence. Now the cause for hope is not only demonstrated by the good practice of medicine but by the good evidence of science. A world-class Jackson County Institute of Translational Medicine will bring the best and most innovative health care to the citizens of Jackson County and hope for people like Emily the world over.

David Westbrook is senior vice president for Strategy & Innovation at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Emily Mallette is a high school student in Lee’s Summit.

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