LEWISBURG — Heather Schutt said she felt special on Saturday as friends, loved ones and strangers came out to support her at the Second Annual Winter Festival to benefit Giving the Gift of Sight.
The event, held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Buffalo Mennonite Church on Hoffa Mill Road, was held to raise money toward a $40,000 trip to Thailand to treat the 12-year-old girl's diagnosis of Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. ONH, which Heather was diagnosed with at four months, results from under-developed optic nerves that are needed to carry messages from the eye to the brain. According to the Magic Foundation, which helps families of children diagnosed with a wide variety of growth impacting medical conditions, ONH is the single leading cause of blindness in infants and toddlers.
"I do want my sight back," said Heather on Saturday. "I can't wait to see stuff that's further away."
The family only needs $5,000 more to fully fund the trip and stem cell treatment in Thailand from Feb. 6 to Feb. 23. Schutt’s family learned of stem cell treatment in Quingdao, China, and took Heather there when she was three years old. During their 6-week stay, she received injections of stem cells and growth factors that improved her vision.
"It's not a cure, but the last we went, by the time we left, she doubled the distance she could see and could pick up on a lighted ball," from Sarah Schutt, her mother and president of the non-profit organization. "It did improve it."
Her daughter has some vision, mostly peripheral vision. She cannot read and uses Braille. She can distinguish most colors, said Sarah Schutt, Heather's mother and president of the non-profit organization.
"Honestly, I'm very thankful," she said about the support.
The event featured craft and food vendors, an auction children's games and activities, photo sessions raffles and a visit from Santa Claus. More than vendors attended, including Magg’s Memories, Scentsy, Barkin Dog Biscuits and doTerra.
Heather's great-great-aunt Kay Keister set up a table to sell Scentsy items. She said she is excited to see the treatment work.
"It's going to be a big load off their shoulders," she said. "It will be a gift — a well-deserved gift — because Heather is such a sweet, young lady."
Giving the Gift of Sight is also designed to help and support families with children diagnosed with ONH, and provide financial assistance for treatment.
Cindy O. Herman contributed to this report.