A Vancouver Island grandmother is raising funds for her 13-year-old grandson, Robert Johnston-Harper, to get him a new glass eye after he sustained an injury resulting in an eye amputation.
Laura Johnston set up a GoFundMe campaign for the young Sayward resident to raise $3,000 and almost 25 donors have come forth to support the cause in the past four days.
“I’ve never done this before,” said Campbell River-based Johnston about organizing a virtual fundraiser. The response from donors left Johnston “teary-eyed” and “grateful.”
She is especially grateful that the fundraiser led her grandson to have a sense of community and belonging.
“He feels a bit of an outsider and oddball at times,” she said about Johnston-Harper whose family moved to Sayward valley five years ago.
“When I told him that almost 75 per cent of the goal money was raised, he was surprised and told me ‘I never thought people liked me,”’ she said.
Johnston considers her grandson a “miracle baby” after he and his twin were born at 26-weeks gestation due to complications.
While his twin died after five days, Johnston-Harper, at 450 grams, continued to fight medical conditions. The excessive oxygen required to keep him alive during this time left him blind in his left eye.
In July this year, his left eye was seriously injured when Ralph and his sibling were playing on a trampoline.
Despite surgery, Johnston-Harper’s eye continued to hemorrhage, so after consultation with a specialist at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, it was suggested the eye be removed. The family is waiting for a call from hospital for a surgery date.
A prosthetic eye will be fit in eight weeks after his eye has been sewn shut.
In the meantime, Johnston is raising funds for the family that has to drive over an hour and a half to visit his ophthalmologist in Courtenay. Several more trips are expected in winter to the hospital on the Mainland as the boy recovers.
The family runs a farm in Sayward and Johnston-Harper and his four siblings were being homeschooled after the pandemic began.
Knowing that only some of the costs will be covered and that the family will require financial support to get through this, Johnston decided to raise funds online for them.
“As a grandmother, I worry about their trips from Sayward, BC to Vancouver, BC without assuring their vehicle is winterized and I want to ensure that Johnston-Harper receives the best possible care and the best possible prosthetic eyeball with as little stress as possible to either him or his family,” said Johnston.
She also spoke about Johnston-Harper’s resilient spirit since he was a baby– he underwent heart surgery, two laser eye operations and a retina reattachment surgery.
After 13 surgeries, the young boy is a “strong young man” with an “amazing sense of humour,” according to his grandmother.
“He is witty and loves to make people laugh, and he enjoys helping me bake when he is visiting. He works hard to adapt and is an active young boy, despite his limitations,” said Johnston in her fundraiser message.