Blind Church Hill student suffering from kidney failure needs computer

Jeff Bobo • Jul 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM

CHURCH HILL — Jessie Rogers has been blind since birth, but that hasn’t prevented her from becoming one of Church Hill Middle School’s most prolific readers.

In the 2007-08 school year, Jessie finished second in her school’s reading contest out of 270 contestants.

But this past school year her reading total began to slip. It was all she could do to make it through a school day, and when she got home she often just collapsed on the couch.

At one point Jessie missed three weeks of school, but she and her mother, Brenda Rogers, never received a good explanation of what was wrong with her. She still earned some reading awards but wasn’t at the top of the list like she was used to being.

Last month Jessie’s energy level really began to waver. Her mother took her to the family doctor, who suggested it was dehydration. Then one day she fainted, and her mother insisted on a blood test.

Upon receiving the results of that blood test, doctors ordered Jessie to the emergency room immediately, where a couple more tests revealed that she was in total kidney failure.

Doctors discovered that the same disease that caused Jessie’s blindness — familial juvenile nephronophthisis — also caused her kidneys to stop growing around age 4.

“It’s a very rare disease she was born with that we never knew about, that caused the blindness,” Brenda Rogers said. “The full blown of it wouldn’t happen until she was a teenager, and she just turned 13. The pediatric nephrologist we saw at the Johnson City Children’s Hospital said she has a chronic kidney disease and would need a transplant.”

That was three weeks ago, and last Friday Jessie underwent surgery to install a catheter in her stomach.

That catheter connects to a dialysis machine that she spends 10 hours a day attached to. Jessie did say, however, that she feels much better since beginning dialysis treatment.

Now she’s waiting for a transplant, which could take anywhere from six weeks to a year. In the meantime, she’ll be able to begin eighth grade this fall at Church Hill Middle School.

But after her transplant she’ll have to stay home because her immunity will be lowered drastically to allow her body to accept the new kidney. That means home schooling for at least six months.

The school has already provided Jessie with an electronic Braille PAC Mate pad, which interprets words from a computer into braille.

And the First Baptist Church of Church Hill has donated Internet service to Jessie to assist her in home schooling.

All she needs now is an actual home computer that the Braille PAC Mate can hook up to. It was Jessie’s former teaching assistant, Gladys Justice, who brought Jessie’s latest medical problem to the attention of the Times-News.

Justice noted that Brenda Rogers is currently off from work to stay home with Jessie during this medical crisis, and as a single parent a home computer isn’t in the budget.

Justice retired last year after working with Jessie since she was 4 years old. But the two remain best friends, and Justice has also been with Jessie during these recent health problems.

Aside from being a prolific reader, Jessie is also a writer. A computer will help her keep up her schoolwork, as well as continue two of her favorite hobbies — reading and writing.

“Jessie is such a good student, and I’d hate to see her fall behind because of this,” Justice said. “She already has a braille pad, which costs about $6,000, and she has the Internet, but neither one are any good to her during home schooling if she doesn’t have a computer. I was just hoping someone might have one they’d be willing to donate to her.”

Anyone who’d like to donate a computer to Jessie can call Justice at 357-1919 or call Brenda Rogers at 963-5340.

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