(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
EAST PRAIRIE -- The moment the word "cars" came out of 4-year-old Daegan Archie's mouth, his brother stood up from where he had been playing.
"I'll go get your cars," Jase, 3, said, disappearing down the hallway of his East Prairie home.
Daegan was born blind. His optic nerves didn't develop, and he was diagnosed when he was about three months old. Doctors said there was nothing they could do.
But his family may have found a cure. Daegan's mom, Paige Archie, recently learned of umbilical "corded-blood" stem-cell treatment offered in China, and the family is raising money to take Daegan there next summer to hopefully give him some vision.
For now, though, Jase will continue to look out for his "bubby."
Archie and her husband Jason learned they were pregnant again around the same time Daegan was diagnosed. She said some people told her she didn't need another baby, her hands were already full.
"But it happened for a reason," Archie said. "And you can tell that now."
Daegan and Jase attend the Busy Bee Day Care in East Prairie. There, Jase watches out for Daegan, while playing with other children, said owner Shonna Slaughter.
"He's there to protect him," Slaughter said. "If a kid hits Daegan, he'll go get them back and say 'don't hit my brother.'"
At day care, Daegan typically keeps to himself. "He doesn't want anybody touching him or bothering him," Slaughter said. "But he's come a long way from when he first started here -- he would scream all day."
Daegan's great-grandmother, Loretta Peters, recalled Daegan and Jase's birthday party last month at Chuck E. Cheese. "A lot of the other kids were up jumping around and playing," Peters said. "But he just sits in the chair and listens because he can't do anything else."
All of Daegan's other senses are heightened. He enjoys going for a drive, because he feels the wind. And Daegan's big love is music -- playing on the radio or coming from his toys.
Peters recalled when she bought stuffed frogs for each of the boys. Daegan was a bit upset, she said, because it didn't make any noise.
That's a problem the Archies often run into. "It was really hard (to buy for Christmas and his birthday) the first year," Archie said. Now, they know to look for items with sound, smell and textures.
Richard Sutton, Daegan's great-grandfather, said "it's heartbreaking to see him with other kids."
That's because Daegan is behind for his age -- for instance, his speech and movement are lacking. "But he's doing good for a blind child right now," Archie said.
He attended the Kenny Rogers Children's Center for awhile, but wasn't progressing, she said.
"He needs a mobility therapist to help him walk with canes," Archie said. "And those are extremely hard to find."
In fact, the closest one is in Poplar Bluff, and won't travel to East Prairie because of the distance.
Daegan does, however, know his way around the house. "When we tell him to get in bed, he feels his way down the hallway," Archie said. He seems to count the number of steps it takes him to get somewhere, so he can return to his exact spot, she's noticed.
He also has familiarized himself with other homes and vehicles. "He knows the feel of my truck," Sutton said.
Daegan's grandma, June Maxey, said his hearing is also exceptional. "He hears a baby crying two or three houses down," she said. "I guess God figured he needed something extra."
And when Daegan's mom tells him to come to her, he listens for the direction her voice is coming from so he can walk into her open arms.
When Daegan began walking, he was about 16 months old, Maxey said. "We were really surprised at how well he walks around without bumping into anything," she said. "He rarely falls."
And despite his disability, they all try to treat Daegan as they would any other 4 year old. "The doctors told us to treat him like he is a normal child," Maxey said. "To us, he is normal."
Slaughter agreed. "He's really no different other than sight."
It's unsure what kind of affect the injections will have on Daegan. In the article Archie read, a 6-year-old also born blind now has 20/400 vision and can see her mother's face.
"We don't expect it to be a miracle cure," said Judy Sutton, Daegan's great-
grandma. "But hopefully he will be able to see some."
Daegan's condition has changed life for his whole family. "Me and my husband have a stronger faith in God," Archie said.
Maxey said the news was devastating in the beginning. "But now, he is like a gift and a blessing to us," she said. "He's made a closer family out of all of us -- both sides."