The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 23, 2007

Christmas a little brighter for child

By Wally Kennedy

wkennedy@joplinglobe.com

WEBB CITY, Mo. — Rylea Barlett has had Christmas trees in her home before. But this year is different.

Rylea, a totally blind child whose vision was restored by a stem-cell transplant, can do more than feel her tree now. She can see it.

“She never paid any attention to the trees we have had before,” said her mother, Dawn Barlett. “Now, when she comes home from school, she stands in front of the tree for a couple of hours every night.

“She touches the tree, and is fascinated by the lights and ornaments.”

Her tree has been rigged to turn slowly. Different ornaments and sparkling lights pass by her as the tree turns. She touches the ornaments and describes her favorites.

“This one is a ginger-bread man,” Rylea said last week as she stood close to the tree. “This one is a star. This is one with someone’s picture in it. I like this one of the baby in the moon.”

At this stage in her development, she is not unlike an infant who is seeing for the first time. Only things up close can be visualized.

The 6-year-old girl traveled to China in early July where she received five stem-cells transplants in an experimental study. The stem cells were from umbilical cords. It is not clear yet whether Rylea will eventually develop functional vision. But before the stem cells, she had nothing. She can now see light and make out images.

“We still have a long, long way to go,” said her mother. “But every day we see something new. Her mobility has improved a lot. She’s not bumping into things as much as she used to. There’s something new for her every day.”

Seeing her Christmas tree for the first time isn’t the only recent first for her.

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