For most of his very young life, Brandon Boyd, Jr., has made regular visits to a specialized technician — an ocularist, who makes and fits artificial eyes.
Brandon, who just celebrated his first birthday, was born without eyes, the result of a very rare condition called anophthalmia that develops during pregnancy.
The diagnosis was a shock to Brandon’s young, first-time parents, Shamiska Miller and Brandon Boyd, who like most people had never heard of the condition. But they’re determined to ensure that Brandon’s blindness doesn’t prevent him from living a full life and accomplishing anything he wants as he grows up.
“Him not being able to see won’t stop him from doing a lot of things,” Miller said, holding her son in her lap in the living room of the small Brownsville home she shares with her mother and six siblings. “I don’t feel that because he’s blind he should be told you can’t do this or you can’t do that. I treat him like I would any other baby.”
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Naturally, Brandon requires a lot of extra care and will need special schooling. He’s already going once a week to the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind for a program that Miller calls “awesome.” At the Lighthouse, Brandon gets help in developing his fine motor and navigational skills, learning to interact with other children and getting comfortable in noisy environments.
At the ocularist, Brandon gets treatments to enlarge his eye sockets so sometime soon he can be fitted with prosthetic eyes. That will not only give him a normal appearance, but also ensure proper formation of his face as he grows. The artificial eyes are cosmetic and provide no vision.
Meanwhile, there are signs Brandon may have other developmental issues. He is not growing enough, and his doctor has diagnosed another rare disorder, this one affecting bone growth, that could require significant treatment. He is also being evaluated at the University of Miami’s Mailman Center for Child Development because he doesn’t yet crawl, and though he does say “mommy” and “daddy” he doesn’t attempt to vocalize much more than that, Miller said.
Beyond that, Miller said, she wants her child to “come out of his shell,” because he clings to her when he’s in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar sounds.
I don’t feel that because he’s blind he should be told you can’t do this or you can’t do that. I treat him like I would any other baby.
At home, though, Brandon is a cheerful, curious baby who plays with his many cousins, “loves to get into everything” and, at his first birthday party, “dove in the cake,” Miller said.
“He will devour anything,” she said.
It hasn’t been an easy adjustment for Miller and Boyd, both 20. Miller had been attending Miami Dade College’s Wolfson campus and working towards a business degree, but had to withdraw to care for Brandon — though she intends to go back as soon as she can.
“Everything had to get put aside,” Miller said. “I had to learn about his condition and how to take care of him.”
But Miller said the challenge of caring for Brandon has been good for her, forcing her to mature and expand her view of life.
“It’s been a good experience,” she said. “He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. He’s changed me in a lot of ways.”
Boyd is a sophomore at Marshall University in West Virginia, but he is staying with Miller’s family during winter break as he debates whether to go back in January. He feels he should be in Miami with Miller and Brandon so he can be more involved in his son’s care.
Boyd, a star safety on Booker T. Washington High’s 2014 state-champion football team, was not recruited by colleges and has not been successful as a walk-on candidate at Marshall. But he still dreams of playing college ball, and might seek to transfer to a junior college with a football program, of which there’s only one in Florida — ASA College in North Miami Beach.
Family finances are tight. Two of Miller’s siblings work to support the family, and Brandon gets a disability check, but there’s not a lot left over for extras like toys or even a crib for the baby — Brandon shares a bed with his mother and his father when he’s home.
They’re very young, but they’re very actively involved. Mom is very eager to see Brandon make progress.
Isabel Chica of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind
“They are a very beautiful family,” said Miami Lighthouse’s Isabel Chica. “They’re very young, but they’re very actively involved. Mom is very eager to see Brandon make progress.”
Chica said Brandon would benefit from toys that make sounds and have other sensory or tactile features — like a stacking toy that emits a chime each time a ring is removed or replaced. They could also use some help with basic supplies and items, such as clothes they can use when Brandon’s growth accelerates. Miller would also be grateful for a crib that can be converted to a bed as Brandon grows.
With the proper therapy and support, Chica said, Brandon should otherwise develop normally.
Boyd, who’s a man of few words, said confidently about his son: “He’ll be all right.”
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