Baby Michael Mesa-Tejeda is captivated by light and laughs a lot, but frightens easily and does not want to be left alone for a second.
He lifts his head constantly and crawls as though he’s anxious, looking for something.
“He’s very insecure,” said Jenny Mesa de Tejeda, his 30-year-old Venezuelan mother, as she picks him up and hugs him.
Barely 8 months old, the baby has been diagnosed as legally blind and had two eye surgeries.
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The first surgery came when he was 3 months old. His mother had noticed white spots on his eyes. “I looked it up on the internet and it said that it could be cancer or cataracts,” Mesa said.
The doctor confirmed that the spots were congenital cataracts and diagnosed nystagmus, a condition in which the eyes make repetitive and uncontrolled movements that often lead to problems with vision and depth perception and can affect balance and coordination.
Another surgey followed. Afterward, Michael “improved a little, but this is something for life,” Mesa said.
Her other son, 3-year-old Kevin, is hyperactive, does not follow orders and shows “very difficult behavior,” the mother added. He was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder more than a year ago.
“No one understands his condition,” Mesa said. “People on the street look at him in like he’s weird. It’s frustrating, because people don’t want him.”
“I can’t leave them alone for one minute,” said Mesa, who was forced to quit her job managing the cleaning crews at a Brickell Avenue building to take care of her sons.
Her mother came from Venezuela three months ago to help her with the children, but her visa expires in another three months and she will have to return home.
The family lives in government-subsidized housing in Cutler Bay, west of the turnpike. The apartment, part of the Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development program, has a roof leak that makes the upstairs bedrooms extremely humid, so Mesa and the children sleep downstairs on a futon, the only furniture in the living room.
Baby Michael gets therapy every Monday and Wednesday at the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He also receives physical and other therapy during the week. He was weak and his head was always hanging down when he was younger, Mesa said. And on Fridays, he gets therapy at home.
Kevin also undergoes therapy at the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital of the Miami Children’s Health System, and Mesa is waiting for approval to put him in a special school.
Margaret Knanashoo, the Miami Lighthouse specialist who handles Michael’s case, said the family faces a very difficult situation.
Mesa “is a good mother and takes good care of the children. Despite her complicated situation, she takes the children to all of their therapy sessions and never misses one,” Knanashoo said.
The family needs basic household goods, educational materials for the children and toys that will help their development, the Miami Lighthouse said when it nominated the family for the Miami Herald’s Wish Book.
It also needs a clothes washer, furniture and repairs to her car.
Mesa said she’s also looking for a new home. “The doctor said the children always have a cold because of the humidity. They have even suffered asthma attacks,” she said.
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook @MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook