Fundraiser set for M-F teen with rare eye ailment

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Brandon Kralman, 19, is studying at Walla Walla Community College to be an agricultural engineer.

It's obvious in Ila Kralman's voice -- she still feels the despair that washed over her and her husband when the first bomb was dropped.

Seated in the Walla Walla office of Dr. Mark Kuechenmeister and holding their infant son, Brandon, the couple took the first of what would be more hits than they could count.

Brandon, the Milton-Freewater farming family's first child, was born with a rare birth defect called aniridia and his brand-new future was looking grim.

Now 19, he faces another in a long string of surgeries, and a community fundraiser is set to help the family defray costs.

When their son was an infant, the Kralmans were told Brandon "could be mentally retarded, have tumors in his kidneys and that he will go blind," Ila recalled.

Even her education as a nurse couldn't have prepared her for that bomb, she said.

Shattered by the news, they nonetheless gathered the courage to begin the journey of becoming as knowledgeable as they could about the disorder, which was not well understood at the time.

Aniridia is the absence or underdevelopement of the iris in the eye. While other problems can be attributed to this gene mutation, it's known by the damage it causes to the eye. The disorder leads to photosensitivity and underdevelopment of the parts of the eye that regulate pressure, resulting in glaucoma.

In 1999, at age 6, Brandon lost what vision he had in his left eye after he developed an infection following glaucoma surgery. By the time he was 7, the procedure count was at three.

By April of last year, that eyeball had shrunk to the size of a pea, Ila said, causing the area around it to collapse, catching Brandon's eyelashes on the inside.

"He was in extreme pain." Today, however, the teen sports a prosthetic eye that no one can discern is not the one he was born with, she said.

As well, the young man -- who is enrolled at Walla Walla Community College as he pursues a degree in agricultural engineering -- endured nine glaucoma surgeries on his right eye in an attempt to save his eyesight, Ila noted.

Brandon's vision has deteriorated to counting fingers at two feet.

The Kralmans had become resigned to watching their son's vision fade to black, Ila said today. The friendly boy who participated with fervor in high school wrestling and FFA was also in danger of losing his career of choice.

Under the heading of "best possible outcome" was only vague hope for some sight, Ila said.

But in July, with the help of generous people, Ila and Brandon were able to attend a conference presented by the Aniridia Foundation International in Georgia. "I learned more in three days than in 19 years," Ila said.

There the family networked with other sufferers for the first time, and met professionals who have focused their practice on the disorder. Now Brandon is scheduled to undergo surgery once again, but this time under the hands of physicians at the Cincinnati Eye Institute, which manages the care of hundreds of aniridia sufferers.

Brandon is scheduled for cataract surgery Dec. 8. A simple procedure in a normal eye but very complicated in an abnormally underdeveloped eye, Ila said.

In addition, the youth should receive an iris implant to limit the amount of light into the eye that distorts his limited vision.

It's a fairly new procedure and not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she added. "Our doctor has placed over 80 implants with extremely high success and more than 50 in patients with Brandon's eye condition."

As always, there are no guarantees. But after that comes a stem cell transplant for Brandon. "Due to his eye defect, his limbal stem cells are dead, causing scar formation over his cornea and therefore adding more limitations to his very deteriorating vision."

The stem cell transplant is the best option for folks with aniridia, Ila said. "The stem cells will be harvested from one of his sisters and testing is not covered by insurance."



If you go

A hot dog barbecue to benefit the family of Brandon Kralman is scheduled for Friday from 5-7 p.m. at McLoughlin High School, 120 S. Main St. The menu will include salads, corn on the cob and desserts. Tickets are $5.

For more information call 509-386-2499.

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