Meghan has been blind from birth and has had to endure many painful surgeries due to glaucoma. She also happens to be one of Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s biggest fans. So, it was a dream come true for Meghan when she got the opportunity to visit CMA for Winter and Hope’s birthday.
Watch Meghan Meet Winter & Hope
Read more below about Meghan’s eye condition and learn how she connected with Winter.
Meghan Shares Her Own Story
Hi. My name is Meghan Schmidt and I’m a 17-year-old junior in high school. I live in Kansas City, Missouri. I was born with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), due to being born 3 months early, weighing only 1 pound 11.6 oz and being completely blind. I had multiple eye surgeries as a baby which allowed me to have light perception, but the doctors weren’t able to make it so I could see due to the severity of my eye disease.
For about 14 years, I experienced horrible eye pain in my right eye due to the retinopathy and glaucoma, which we tried to make better by trying many medicated drops and ointments. The doctors told me to rate it on a scale from 1 to 10 and as the years went by, it was around the 7 to 10 mark. It got so bad, I had to start wearing a hat and dark sunglasses outside and especially at school because the sun and lights in the school would make the pain much worse. I even started having absence seizures and many other health issues. Throughout 7th and 8th grade, I missed so much school because of my eye pain, having a seizure at school or in the morning before school, or just feeling miserable.
Constant Eye Pain, Seizures and Tests
Sometimes I would have multiple seizures a day. Through most of 8th grade, I went through tons of MRls, cat scans, and other evasive tests to try and figure out what was wrong with me. All the tests came back negative, and none of the medicines seemed to be helping. I was on multiple eye drops and medicines for my eye pain, seizures and health issues.
After multiple eye surgeries, we couldn’t bring the pain down and the doctors said that we had done everything we could do to save the eye. About nine months in, one of the doctors wondered if all my health problems were caused by my right eye, so they recommended us to an ophthalmic plastic and reconstruction surgeon. He told us that he also believed all my problems may be because of the eye, so he recommended removing it. He said there was a 50/50 chance removing it would not only help relieve the pain, but make the seizures and other health issues go away as well. After talking it over with my family, we finally made the courageous decision to have my right eye removed.
On April 10th 2014, I had it removed and replaced with a temporary conformer with a bandage over it. That was my very first pain-free surgery! About 2 weeks later, I was able to have the bandage taken off. I had to keep it on because the conformer was transparent and if someone were to look at me, they would see what looks like an extremely nasty-looking bloodshot eye.
Getting a New Prosthetic Eye
After the redness and swelling went completely down and had time to heal, I was able to get a prosthetic eye. What I really loved was, the first available day to get me in was June 9, 2014, my 15th birthday. The ocularist, who is the doctor that makes prosthetic eyes, was able to make it look just like my left eye. First he made a mold of my eye, which felt sort of like play dough. After he let it sit in the socket for a few minutes, he took it out and began to work on making my eye. My family and I were pretty amazed because I was able to get it that same day! After it was finished, he taught me how to take it out and put it in because I have to clean it once a month with baby shampoo.
I repeatedly thanked my parents and told them getting my new eye was the best birthday present ever! I love going about life with absolutely no eye pain whatsoever and no more seizures or other health issues. Sadly, I’ve forgotten a lot of information I learned in school and fun things I did with my family. For example, my parents took me to Clearwater Marine Aquarium almost three years ago, but due to all of the eye pain and other health issues, I hardly remember it. I do remember my brother, Trevor, got soaked by Nicholas during one of his performances. Trevor was about to tell me Nicholas was going to splash our side. Right as he opened his mouth to warn me, he got soaked along with salt water in his mouth, which he said tasted awful! I bet the water felt good though because it was so hot that day. I also got a t-shirt with Winter on it that I love wearing, and a bracelet that says, “If Winter can, I can.” I still can’t believe all those problems were caused by that one sick eye.
Connecting With Winter and the Dolphin Tale Movies
One evening when I was lying on the couch with an ice pack over my eye, my mom found Dolphin Tale on demand and she figured I would like it. As I was watching it with her, she was describing everything to me and I would smile every time Winter would make any noise, or when Sawyer and Hazel were playing with her. As the movie went on, I began to ask her questions about what Winter would feel like, what she looked like in the crab trap, and what her tail looks like and how it’s put on. At the end when she was swimming with Kyle, I became inspired by her positive attitude and ability to adapt to anything new. She is truly a fighter!
When Dolphin Tale 2 came out, I was super excited! My mom surprised me after school and took me to see it in the theater the day it came out. I was able to use a descriptive audio device the movie theater provides, so my mom didn’t have to talk during the movie. I love that the second movie has more of the rescue, rehab, release process so people can see what CMA is truly known for.
When Winter and Hope were paired together, my heart was racing because I could tell by the music, something bad might happen. After Hope saw Winter swim normally, I loved how they were playing and Winter sounded so happy to finally have a companion again. I loved Rufus in both movies!
Ever since I saw the second movie, I wanted to come back to CMA and meet Winter and Hope. I own both movies and I love watching them. I also found CMA’s channel on YouTube and subscribed. I love the videos and the new web series, Rescue Clearwater. I love what CMA does for all the animals they rescue, rehab, release, and all the resident animals!
Meghan visited CMA in October 2016, and was able to meet Winter & Hope. Watch the Facebook Live video of her visit.