Rare Eye Condition Inspires Parents to Create Cool Glasses for Kids

December 13, 2016 6:00 AM
Jonas, suffering from Peters anomaly, and his parents

Born blind, Jonas Harrison’s developing sight sparked a philanthropic “Buy Sight, Give Sight” company, Jonas Paul Eyewear.

Three-year-old Jonas Harrison likes Dr. Seuss, counting, making animal sounds and the smell of food cooking in the kitchen, especially when it’s his favorite, which happens to be bacon.

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In his short life, his mother says he’s inspired his family to live life more fully, using all five senses, because he was born without one of his. Jonas was born blind, a result of a rare eye condition called Peters anomaly. At birth, his corneas were clouded with no light perception.

But by responding positively to an incredibly difficult personal struggle, his parents, Laura and Ben Harrison, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, are changing children’s eyewear with a focus on helping children feel beautiful and confident in their glasses.

“When doctors (at University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center) told us he had some potential for sight, I started looking for glasses,” says Ben Harrison. “If he would have to wear glasses, I wanted him to look like a little stud muffin.”

Realizing the gap in good fashion for kids, they created Jonas Paul Eyewear, a “Buy Sight, Give Sight” eyewear company that helps nonprofits provide eye exams, glasses and blindness-preventing supplements for children across the globe.

“We knew how helpless we felt and we had access to doctors and the care Jonas needed to have sight,” Ben explains. “We wanted to pass that blessing on to other families.”

Already, their goal — “to make an impact and change a life,” says Laura Harrison — has helped 22,000 families in 64 countries.

Not that their own journey has been easy.

The Harrison family, creators of Jonas Paul Eyewear
The Harrison family, including daughter Sophie.
Photographs courtesy of Jill DeVries Photography

After 21 surgeries, doctors have helped Jonas gain some vision, his medical odyssey charted by Kellogg Eye Center pediatric ophthalmologist Brenda Bohnsack, M.D., Ph.D., and cornea specialist Shahzad I. Mian, M.D.

“It requires a team of experts — not only physicians that can provide that care, but also low vision specialists, occupational therapists, optometry, nursing,” says Mian. “One of the most important parts is good social and family support. Jonas is lucky to have parents so dedicated to his care.”

Bohnsack researches congenital eye diseases and childhood glaucoma, noting Peters occurs in between 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50,000 people.

Jonas has responded well to treatment, the doctors say. He’s had corneal transplants, which are especially complex in youngsters because of their small eyes and strong inflammatory response, which raises the risk of rejecting the new tissue.

“With conditions like Peters anomaly and having glaucoma, there are going to be continuing challenges,” Mian says. “Jonas is a remarkable child who has a drive and energy to succeed and be active. We’re very optimistic that he will continue to do well, and, as our ability to provide better care for him improves, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to help him maintain his vision for the rest of his life.”

For more on Jonas Paul Eyewear, view a recent segment on Weekend TODAY featuring the family here.