LEXINGTON — Felipe Molina, when he was eight years old, began third grade just as another student would, energetic and happy. He loved to play outside, especially playing soccer with his friends. It would be his teachers who would notice something which would begin an ongoing journey for his family.
Felipe’s teachers at Sandoz began to notice he was having trouble seeing the board, they sent him home with a note to his mother encouraging her to have Felipe’s vision checked. Rita Colocho, Felipe’s mother, hadn’t noticed anything amiss at home, but she did notice Felipe had been rubbing his eyes more than usual.
Rita said after several tests showed nothing was wrong with his eyes, Felipe returned to school at Sandoz but his teachers still noticed how he struggled with his vision, they sent a second note home with Felipe saying he should have his vision checked.
His mother then decided to take him to a specalist. Rita said she wasn’t satisfied with this and soon took Felipe to an eye doctor in Kearney. The doctor checked Felipe’s vision and recommended he go see a specialist in Hastings.
The family traveled to Hastings they saw Dr. John Welch an ophthalmologist. Dr. Welch detected something was wrong with Felipe’s eyes and told the family to see a specialist in Omaha that very day. Rita packed up Felipe and his younger sister Alison, who is now five, and took off for Omaha.
In Omaha a specialist conducted a number of tests on Felipe’s eyes. The results were not good. It was discovered Felipe had Coats’ disease, a rare congenital, nonhereditary eye disorder which can cause full or partial blindness. It is characterized by abnormal development of blood vessels behind the retina.
The most common presentation of Coats’ disease is leukocoria, an abnormal white reflection in the retina. Symptoms typically begin as blurred vision, usually when one eye is closed. Often the unaffected eye will attempt to compensate for the loss of vision in the other eye. The peak age of onset is between six to eight years of age.
Coats’ disease results in a gradual loss of vision, blood leaks from the abnormal vessels into the back of the eye, leaving behind cholesterol deposits which damage the retina.
The Molina family stayed in Omaha for a week, Felipe said the doctors told him his retina was deteriorating. Treatments lasted for a full week. The doctors were able to stabilize it, and prevent his vision from getting worse. “It wasn’t doing well, but it wasn’t getting worse,” Felipe said.
Felipe is now 10 years old and has been traveling to Hastings every eight weeks, for two years, to Mary Lanning Health Care for treatment. Felipe said he receives his treatment from Dr. William Terrell an ophthalmogist at Mary Lanning.
Felipe said during these treatments he receives vaccinations for his eyes. He said numbing drops pupils and they are dilated, he also must receive a numbing gel which helps keep his eye lids out of the way.
These treatments are not easy on Felipe and he said he did not like it at all when he first started receiving them. He said one time he almost became mad with the doctors and asked them when it would stop. He asked the doctors in the beginning if he would ever be cured of this but he knows now his vision will never go back to the way it was before the onset of the disease.
The doctors have encouraged him to keep looking at the “happy side of things,” Felipe said. They have helped him to focus on the fact his vision is not getting worse and have helped keep his spirits up throughout the treatments.
“The doctors pray for me, I pray for the doctors, and I pray for myself,” Felipe said.
Yet Felipe’s biggest supporter and, “his rock,” as his mother Rita put it, is his little sister Alison. She said Alison has traveled to Hastings with him and stood by him time and time again holding his hand telling him to be brave and to be strong.
Recently Alison has not been able to attend Felipe to his treatments. Alison attends school at Lexington and has missed several days of school traveling with the family to Hastings for the treatments. Rita said she wants the school and her teachers to understand just what kind of impact she has on Felipe when he is going through these treatments.
Current policy at Lexington Public Schools is if a student misses 20 or more days of school, they are required to attend summer school.
“She is not missing school because she doesn’t want to be there, she is missing school to be with her brother,” Rita said through an interpreter.
“The impact on the family was tragic at first,” Rita said but the help of the community and family has helped her immensely. Rita’s husband, Emilio Molina, has also provided his own support and often takes Felipe to Hastings for his treatment. Much of Rita’s family lives in Massachusetts but has offered their support often.
Both Rita and Emilio work at Tyson in processing, Rita works the “A” shift in the morning and Emilio works the “B” shift in the afternoon. Rita said they have both worked together to make everything work for the family.
She said medical institutions have been patient with them for paying the medical expenses, which are high.
Rita said she also is “really grateful,” to Felipe’s school for the accommodations they have made for him and how they cater to his needs. “Make sure they know how much I appreciate this,” she said.
She said his teachers have really put Felipe on a pedestal, they have said, “he is a very smart young man.”
Felipe said sometimes at school he feels as though his peers are jealous of the treatment he receives and the resources he is afforded because of his condition.
He said he has a personal lamp, a magnifier and a special I-Pad which he uses at school. “Sometimes I feel like they want it for themselves, but I don’t like to see it that way though,” Felipe said.
Felipe said his family has supported him in countless ways, she said his parents’ money either goes toward their home or his treatments.
He said when he was younger he loved to play soccer, “I played a lot before the disease.” Felipe said he would get hit by the ball countless times and think nothing of it. Now after his diagnosis he said he is worried to play, he said he was scared if he got hit in the head by the ball it would make the condition worse.
“It changed my life,” Felipe said about Coats’ disease.
Felipe said he now likes to play video games, read, play outside, go to school and “eat, and eat, and eat,” he said.
Felipe Molina and his family will be the beneficiary of the 11th Red and Wild event held on Thursday, April 18 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Holiday In Express in Lexington. Tickets are $7 in advance and $8 at the door.
Rita said not long ago she had a premonition at church that something good would happen soon, she now says she believes being chosen as the recipient of Red and Wild was this good thing on the horizon. Rita says she is a person of deep faith and her faith in God has been strengthened because of moments like this.
“I feel very blessed this is happening, I am blessed the community is going to do this for my family,” she said.