In my last post, I wrote about receiving a call from an old friend, who’d urged me to meet with the family of a coworker. This family had a very interesting, and potentially very difficult case, that my friend thought would intrigue me.
When Donna Castillo first walked into my office, she struck me as demure and fairly typical of the people I met and represented every day.
Her husband, Juan, a Cuban-American, worked as an accountant at a pension company. Donna was a former schoolteacher born and raised in Massachusetts. She had sandy brown hair and spoke with a thick New England accent.
She and Juan met in Florida and had made a home for their family in Kendall. At the time, the area was part of unincorporated Dade County, which comprised mostly farmland. I used to go for long runs out that way in the early ’80s, so I knew the city well. As Donna began to share more about her life, she spoke of her and Juan’s two young children, a 6-year-old girl named Adrianna and their 3-year-old boy John.
She described what appeared to be a very loving, close-knit family, although I could tell there was a painful, underlying strain there. You could see it in her eyes.
“Tell me why you’re here today,” I said.
Donna spoke softly as she did her best to fight back tears.
She told me that on approximately the first or second of November 1989, she had decided to take her young daughter for a walk in her stroller to get some fresh air. As they passed by Pine Island Farms, a typical “u-pick” field usually full of strawberries and tomatoes, she noticed that a tractor had become stuck in the mud.
The sprayer attachment had a big wingspan, close to thirty-six feet end to end, and it was spraying a clear, odorless liquid as it thrashed uncontrollably about. She stopped for a brief moment and watched the driver of the tractor try unsuccessfully to maneuver the vehicle out of the soaked ground.
It was a relatively windy day, and at one point the gusts shifted in such a way that Donna became wet from the spray. Since the liquid didn’t have any noticeable color, smell, or taste, she assumed it was just water. She was eight or nine weeks pregnant, and though she wasn’t terribly concerned at the time, she went home and shared her experience with her husband. He agreed that there was probably nothing to be worried about.
Just to be certain, she went to the obstetrician the next day. After listening to the details of her encounter, the doctor came to the same conclusion. The farmer must have been watering his crop, as there was no obvious evidence of any chemical use.
Seven months later, Donna gave birth to her son, John.
She and Juan had expected a perfectly healthy child because there had been no sign of any problems throughout the pregnancy. The reality in the delivery room, however, was quite different. The couple was horrified to learn that John was born with no eyes.
They had no idea what had caused this rare birth defect. In time, I would learn that when a child is born with no eyes, the condition is known as anophthalmia. Similarly, when a child is born with only residual tissue in place of his or her eyes or with abnormally small eyes, this sister condition to anophthalmia is called microphthalmia. Although Johnny had no eyes, he did have a tiny cyst where his eyes should have been; thus, his condition was classified as microphthalmia.
“The condition is incurable,” Donna said, now sobbing as she pulled a small photo of the baby from her purse.
She told me that while Johnny could someday be fitted with glass prosthetic eyes, he would never be able to see. Not only would he be blind for life, he was permanently disfigured.
In my next post, I will share a bit more of the Castillos, and their heartrending dilemma. And what I decided to do on their behalf.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Were you ever in a position where you were called upon to do something that you hesitated to take on, but did, knowing you needed to for your own inner compass? Thank you for sharing.