This month holds my birthday, my brother's birthday and my sister's birthday, so I am, of course, reminiscent lately.
I've often been asked, "Who is your hero?" and my answer has not changed since I was three years old. -- My brother. Period.
My brother is, without a doubt, my hero, my role-model, my heart, the type of man that I hope my child will grow up to be. He has exhibited more strength in his 23 years than most men do in 75.
When Joey was born, his vision was nonexistant. He was completely blind. I was three when he was born, and I was suddenly caught up in a tornado of events that will stick with me forever. My family travelled daily to Pittsburgh Children's Hospital, approximately two and a half hours away, for iffy doctor visits and little hope. We were very lucky because a pediatric eye doctor, Dr. Hiles, came out of retirement to work on Joey. My parents were willing to try anything - and when they found out about a highly experimental surgery that could give their son limited vision, they decided to try it out.
My brother was the first infant to receive an epikeratophakia
, in other words - he received donor corneas. Joey was lucky, he received three different corneas because one operation failed. Corneas are hard to get from donors and the odds of him receiving one were slim, let alone three.
By the time Joey was three years old he endured 21 operations on his eyes and could see! He had another surgery when he was seven to cut a muscle to stop his eyes from crossing. The surgeries resulted in a lazy eye - but he can see.
My parents often talk about the first time they realized the surgeries were successful. Joey was sitting in his baby seat in the living room and my father was walking into the kitchen with a balloon in his hand. My brother looked at the balloon and followed it as my father moved. Needless to say, my dad walked back and forth for hours, crying and laughing while Joey watched the balloon in amazement.
As I mentioned, Joey's birthday is this month. He will be 23. He is still legally blind. I can't remember the numbers exactly, but his vision is something like 20/400 in one eye and worse 20/600 in the other - what this means is that what the average person can see at 400 or 600 feet, Joey must be at 20 feet to see. It's poor - but he can see. And he never complains.
Joey does everything on his own. He plays his video games, he has a good job, he walks all over town. Obviously, he cannot drive, but he doesn't let that stop him. He gets around like anyone - even better than most. And other than cracking a joke now and then, I've never heard him complain.
He's been teased and tormented by children when he was younger and still he never buckled. He never felt sorry for himself, never cried, never said "why me?" or "I hate this." He is so strong.
And you would think his trouble would stop at his eyes - NO! He also has a condition that causes tumors to occur occassionally. A few years ago, he complained of chest pains. My parents took him to the ER and he was XRayed. The doctors sent him on his way and said he was suffering from pleurisy.
A day or two later, the phone rang. A doctor who had never even met Joey stumbled across his xrays and found a spot. They called him in for more testing. It was a tumor.
The tumor was very close to his spinal column, so a neurosurgeon was called in to handle the operation. The doctor had to remove a portion of his rib to take the tumor out - but out it came. The surgery was a major one - it was scary and risky. But again, Joey dealt with it. No tears, no complaints. The tumor was malignant in the center. No tears, no complaints. Luckily, the cancer had not spread and was contained in the tumor. Joey had to go back for monthly visits, then bi-monthly, and now yearly. Still, no complaints.
A while later, he had a tumor removed from his lip. It was nothing serious, but still a nuissance.
And Joey could sit on his butt and do nothing. He could whine, he could say he was incapable of working, and he would have a right. No one would care if he did those things. We would feel like he had a reason to do nothing and to be sad. But he doesn't sit on his butt. He works seven days a week. He just had a nice date the other night. He has fun with his family. He plays games, he's goofy, he's funny, he's super smart. He never ever bemoans his situation.
I don't believe I have that strength. I don't know many people that do. I whine about everything. I complain about my job. I complain about my food. I complain about my finances. I complain because I had to have one surgery. I complain because I can't have children. I've let my problems beat me down - I cry, I feel sorry for myself, I wish I was someone else sometimes. And then I think about Joey. I think about my hero.
He is the true definition of a man. He deserves everything good. He deserves a life filled with good things.
And so I ask, Who is your hero? And why?