Farragut Lions Club helps FHS teacher’s little sister with sight-saving surgery

Farragut High School teacher Erin Ashe escorts her little sister, Makady Hill, 7, while they were in Toronto, Canada, for Makady’s surgery to help regenerate the nerves in her eyes.
Farragut Lions Club recently played a part in helping make sure a South Knoxville 7-year-old, whose sister is a teacher at Farragut High School, received sight-saving surgery in October.

Makady Hill, who has battled health issues since birth and eye problems since the age of 18 months, underwent a unique nerve replacement surgery at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Canada, which is the only facility in the world to offer the procedure.

She traveled with her mother, Deb Hill, and big sister, Erin Ashe, who teaches at FHS, and stayed nearly two weeks for the surgery and initial healing process.

While the costs of her surgery were handled through the Hill’s private insurance, travel and lodging costs were not. Lions Clubs from all over the Knoxville area stepped up to help, with Farragut Lions specifically paying for airline fees.

“We could not have done it without [the Lions Clubs],” Hill said. “They helped us so much.”

It was just one more part of a journey Deb and her husband, Mike, have been on with Makady ever since they brought the little girl home from the hospital when she was just 29 days old.

The youngest of eight children adopted by the Hills, Makady was born with a variety of birth defects and has had 23 surgeries over the last seven years, from repairing her esophagus and cleft palate to removing a brain calcification.

At one point, doctors told Hill that Makady would never be more than a “vegetable.”

“But I didn’t think so,” she said. “I just didn’t, and felt she was going to get through it. She was just delayed, and it has been wonderful to see” her progress.

What has been harder to overcome has been the eye condition that developed, with redness and irritation the first symptoms.

Drops were prescribed, but the problems persisted. Makady was finally diagnosed with a rare condition in which her eye’s nerves inexplicably ceased working.

Since her initial diagnosis, Makady has been seen by eye specialist Dr. David Harris, who began what became a never-ending five-year process of eye drops, ointments and even four corneal transplants to try and help save Makady’s eyesight.

“Because she doesn’t have feeling [in her eyes], she can’t even produce her own tears. And, not only can she not feel, but if something was in her eye, [the eye wouldn’t] know how to blink, causing further damage.”

However, “She is a most determined child,” Hill marveled. “It is what has kept her alive because she has had to go through so many things.”

“She is a fighter, and you can’t keep her down,” said Ashe, who is “extremely close” to Makady and has attended nearly all of her surgeries.

In the beginning, Makady could still see but gradually lost sight in her right eye due to its gradual breakdown, and it seemed very likely she could lose her sight completely without some kind of intervention.

A glimmer of hope surfaced nearly two years ago, when Harris and Hill researched an experimental surgery only performed at Sick Kids Hospital.

“He told me not to get our hopes up, but my hopes went soaring,” Hill recalled. “If there was one chance you have to try to take it.”

Insurance and scheduling delays took 18 months, but Hill finally got the call in September the surgery would take place Oct. 24.

In the meantime, Hill found out through a friend who lived in Florida that the Lions Club could be of assistance during the process.

“He said they might be able to help us.”

“We could not have done this without the Lions Club,” Ashe said. “We just can’t thank them enough.”

Makady’s surgery, in which a nerve was removed from behind her knee and transplanted around both eyes, went “very well,” said Hill, and they are watching her closely over the next three months to see if it has been successful.

Sick Kids Hospital has had a 100-percent success rate among the less than 12 such procedures performed, so Hill is “very hopeful and encouraged” about Makady’s prognosis. Doctors also are hopeful the nerves may be able to regenerate sight in her right eye, too, Hill said.

“She finds the joy in everything that happens — every little thing,” Ashe said. “And, no matter what you give her, she is overjoyed.”

“With all of this, God just put everything where it was supposed to be,” Hill said. “We know, and she will know, that every possible string was pulled for her.

“She’s going to be fine.”