Her whole life, 2-year-old Nicolly Pereira couldn’t see or hear her mother. The deaf and blind toddler from rural Brazil knew her mother’s love mostly through touch, when her mãe hugged Nicolly or stroked her light brown hair.
But last month, Nicolly gazed into her mother’s teary eyes for the first time. A wide smile filled her face and she instantly pressed her forehead against mama’s, her tiny hands on her mother’s shoulders.
“The only word that can be used to describe the feeling is ‘God,’ ” Nicolly’s mother, Daiana Pereira, 26, said Saturday at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, part of UHealth-University of Miami Health System. “My daughter is free now. She now shines more than before. She has now become a reference for people who didn’t believe in miracles.”
Nicolly was diagnosed with pediatric glaucoma shortly after birth. Doctors confirmed that she couldn’t even see light. Back home in Santa Catarina, Brazil, Nicolly received seven surgeries; they were unsuccessful. But when Pereira posted her story on Facebook, it went viral — more than 30,000 people started to follow Nicolly’s mission to one day see.
Eventually, a Miami viewer contacted the Jackson Health Foundation’s International Kids Fund (Wonderfund), which partnered with the local Kevin Garcia Foundation. Together, the organizations raised more than $17,000 to pay for Nicolly’s surgery at Bascom Palmer.
Alana Grajewski, director of the institute’s pediatric glaucoma center, performed a three-hour surgery on March 17 and was able to restore little Nicolly’s sight, an achievement she had not thought likely.
“When she arrived, I felt I had made a mistake, because normally when they have the children arrive, they have some sort of vision that’s measurable,” Grajewski said. “We have a technician look at them initially and . . . they wrote down that Nicolly couldn’t see anything, not even a light.”
Eye pressure in children is normally from 10 to 20. Nicolly’s was at 50. Grajewski said she felt discouraged but still had hope.
After surgery, Nicolly’s eye pressure decreased to 12.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Everything came together. The first day after surgery she had eye patches on both eyes.”
Even with the patches, though, Nicolly knew something had changed. She was “smiling ear to ear and singing,” Grajewski said. “I loved the feeling of first seeing her mom’s face. That just moved me so much. . . . Then all of a sudden, she realized: ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my mom.’ And her mother could tell the recognition. It was just one of those moments — priceless.”
For months, Pereira believed her lively child was also deaf and developmentally disabled since she didn’t talk or walk. But after arriving in the U.S., Nicolly was examined by Dr. Ramzi Younis, a pediatric ear, nose and throat doctor at UHealth, who discovered she had fluid buildup in her inner ears. He performed surgery to drain the fluid, which took about 30 minutes. Both procedures were done on the same day.
Nicolly can now hear, see, sing and stand on her own. Although she is nearsighted, the little girl giggles and rolls around, all while sporting her new rose-colored glasses.
“Twinkle, twinkle little star,” she sang in English.
With her new sight, she was fixated on the screen of an iPhone.
Nicolly’s sight is still changing as her eyes heal from the surgery. Grajewski says that although she can’t tell for sure how Nicolly’s vision will pan out, it will improve. How it ends up, though, is contingent on continuous follow-up care back home in Brazil. She will return to Bascom Palmer in a year for a checkup.
Doctors at Bascom plan to train the eye doctors who performed the girl’s surgeries in Brazil so that they have more up-to-date techniques and can recognize the signs of glaucoma to treat it early and prevent the loss of sight.
Bringing Nicolly to Miami was surely a community affair here. A 10-year-old donated the prize he won in a youth auto racing league to buy airline tickets for Nicolly and her mom. Another organization covered housing for six weeks, and several others gave the family Publix and Target gift cards, said Carolina Diago of Jackson’s International Kids Fund.
“I already knew there was something special that was going to happen with her,” Diago said. “I was very sure of this miracle happening. It was in my heart, so I went with what was in my heart and my gut.”
That’s when Diago reached out to her friends Carlos and Maria Fiallo, who founded the Kevin Garcia Foundation in honor of their 17-year-old son, who died in 2008 in a car crash. They ultimately raised about $15,000 for Nicolly.
“I had to do it. I had to help that little girl,” Maria said, tears streaming down her cheek. “We lost Kevin very early, too soon. But now I see my son’s light in her eyes.”
That light, Pereira says, will “prove to the world that everything is possible.”
“I feel like ‘mission accomplished,’ that there’s a yes for all those no’s that I received for two years when I was told it wasn’t possible,” Pereira said. “That fact that now it’s possible, that it happened, made me feel incredible.”