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One girl's journey to see again
News Staff Reporter
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Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News
Denise Dominique, front, was aided by Larry Stolzenburg, left, Dr. James Reidy, Heather Todd of the Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired and missionary Elaine Pariso.


The blind girl walked two hours to the makeshift medical clinic.

And so began Denise Dominique's journey from Haiti to Buffalo.

The teenager could not have known then, but her walk two years ago was just the first leg of a journey that would bring her to the Buffalo area and into the caring hands of doctors, nurses, rehabilitation specialists, teachers and churchgoers.

Her traveling ends today.

The 18-year-old will board a flight from Buffalo to Miami, and then she heads to Port-au-Prince. From there she'll return to her tiny village in one of the most impoverished nations in the Western Hemisphere.

She will return with good news.

"Now I can see," Dominique said through an interpreter Saturday in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst.

For two years, she couldn't. An infectious disease transmitted by a mosquito robbed Dominique of her vision.

Doctors here restored sight in her right eye, assisted by Kaleida Health, Upstate New York Transplant Services and the Elizabeth Pierce Olmsted Center for the Visually Impaired. The transplant was performed by Dr. James Reidy, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University at Buffalo.

During a second surgery, Dr. Faruk M. Koreishi removed blood and treated her retina at Millard Fillmore Hospital.

A third operation revealed too much damage to her left eye for doctors to repair.

"When I first woke up, I didn't feel good," she recalled of the second operation. "After a few days, I started to see shadows."

Eventually, she regained more of her vision.

"When I realized I could see, I was really happy," she said.

Dominique can't read small numbers in the telephone book, but sees shapes and colors.

Now she will be able to return to school, read the Bible and play outside with her siblings and friends, she said.

While eye surgery transformed the teenager's life, she touched those around her. And they're doing more for her village.

She has learned to speak some English since coming to Buffalo in September, but sometimes those caring for her misunderstood her.

A few months ago, a local woman visiting Dominique asked her what she wanted for Christmas. Dominique said she wanted people to pray so a church could be built in her village.

The woman didn't hear the part about praying, and she thought Dominique had simply asked for a church.

The woman sent e-mail messages to others about the conversation. The response was overwhelming.

During the Christmas Eve service at Whitehaven Road Baptist Church in Grand Island, the congregation presented Dominique with a gift.

Church members raised $31,000 - enough to build a church in Dominique's village and buy a generator and musical instruments.

Larry Stolzenburg, formerly of Grand Island, is most responsible for bringing Dominique to Buffalo. He first met her during his mission trip to Haiti two years ago.

When she's back in Haiti, Dominique hopes to return to school and become a teacher and seamstress.

"I will continue to pray, and for God to bless all of you," she said Saturday, surrounded by her caregivers. "You've done a lot for me."