Pottstown >> A gaggle of area doctors and philanthropists have come together to take a young man from a small island in the Bahamas under their wings. Keddy “K.C.” Culmer, 19, returned home to the island of Eleuthera over the weekend, after spending one week in the region receiving medical attention for problems with his eyes that originated with his premature birth.
Dr. Nick Romansky, a podiatrist from Media, was visiting Jim McBride, originally from Malvern, at his island home when they met Culmer and heard his story from Culmer’s mother about how the teen is losing his eyesight. “She started telling me the story and, of course, we melted,” Romansky said. “He’s too young. He wants to be a pilot. He loves the air, but he’s still a developing kid to some degree. He’s young and he’s going the other way… Now’s the time to put in the action, if you can and get the appropriate evaluation. Maybe we can bring him into America to one of the best places in the world. We need to do something.”
Romansky and McBride went into action. The two began to formulate a plan to help Culmer see doctors in Phoenixville and Philadelphia.
“He had a complicated birth, and prior to birth, a brain bleed that caused problems with his vision and hearing,” Romansky said. “We started working with Angel Flights East out of Pottstown, and a couple of eye doctors to fly this kid up here to get testing done. We’re putting our funds and efforts together to get this guy some help.”
Angel Flights East is an organization that recruits pilots with small private planes to fly patients forced to travel long distances for the medical care they need.
Dr. Greg Vallino of Phoenixville has been flying with Angel Flights East for about six years, and played a duel role in Culmer’s visit as both a pilot on the flight and an optometrist on the ground.
“This case is special because I got involved in the eye care,” Vallino said. “I get to go on the mission and then I get to follow his care while he’s here.”
Vallino and Justin Imbody, another Angel Flights East pilot, picked up Culmer and his mother from an airport in Richmond, Va., and flew them into the Pottstown Limerick Airport. Before that flight, Romansky and McBride arranged for a flight from the island to the U.S.
Vallino was uniquely positioned to help with skills as a pilot and as an eye doctor. Culmer underwent tests with Vallino before being sent to specialists at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.
“The benefit was to see someone is losing their sight to exhaust all avenues to slow the progression or stop it, basically, and see if there are alternative treatments. Wills is the number one eye hospital, so we got him the number one opinion,” Vallino said.
Vallino said that he bonded with Culmer over the young man’s love of the skies and his desire to be a pilot.
“The trip was awesome,” he said. “When we picked up Keddy, I asked him if he had any reservations about sitting up front, and he didn’t. So he spent the flight in the cockpit with Justin as we flew back to Pottstown.”
For several days Vallino ran tests before sending the Culmers to see specialists in Philadelphia for further evaluation. Vallino said that nothing could be done for Culmer during the trip, but the hospital will have a full diagnosis in a few weeks’ time. Having that diagnosis could be the key to future clinical trials.
While Culmer will wait to find out if there is any way to improve his vision, he has one memento of his trip that can remind him of the support team that made the trip happen.
“The end of all the Angel Flights, with anyone 18 or so or younger, they get the U.S. pilot pins. So at the end of the flight we presented it to Teddy. When I saw him on Monday, he still had it on his new shirt. His mom said he doesn’t take it off.”
Kathleen E. Carey contributed to this report.