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Blind woman still looking for a miracle

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Almost a year after stem-cell surgery to restore her sight, Savannah Sanders remains blind.

By Lisa King

It’s been 10 months since 22-year-old Savannah Sanders headed out to Arizona to have a procedure that she hoped would restore her eyesight.

The trip was made possible by a community-wide fundraiser attended by hundreds of people last summer at the Shelby County Park Amphitheater, which included 12 bands, face painting, a karaoke contest, a silent and live auction, bake sale, bounce houses, food vendors, and dozens of volunteers.

Now, nearing a year later, Sanders still has not regained her eyesight or had much improvement in that regard.

Sanders did not return a phone call for an interview with The Sentinel-Newsto talk about how she is doing today, but Gary Walls, who is on the board of directors for Shelby County Community Charities, the organization that put on the fundraiser, said he has been in regular contact with her family.

“There have been improvements with her, and that the family is hopeful,” he said. “There has been a remarkable improvement in her right arm, but as far as eyesight, we knew that if it worked, it would be a miracle.”

When Sanders was 10 years old, she was shot in a drive-by shooting. The bullet entered her left temple, severed her optic nerve and left her completely blind and fighting for her life.

She wasn’t expected to survive.

Walls said that the improvement to Sanders’ shoulder, which was also injured in the shooting, has been dramatic, but there has not been much improvement in the most traumatic injury, to her eyes.

“She says she has some sensation, but as far as being able to see, no,” Walls said. “She takes oxygen therapy continuously. In Arizona, they thought this [oxygen therapy] would stimulate the stem cells she received. She has been on that, and it’s fifteen hundred dollars a month. That’s half price, thanks to a local guy, Jim Collins, who has been wonderful with that.”

Walls said there has been some talk of her having a second stem-cell procedure at the same facility in Arizona.

But that would mean Sanders would have to raise another $20,000 for another procedure. Last year’s event raised $25,872.

“There have been discussions, but no plans,” Walls  said.

At the time of the fundraiser last summer, Sanders’ family members expressed hope that even if the procedure did not restore her sight, maybe it would at least leave her with enough sight so she could walk without bumping into walls.

But mingled with that disappointment is a small ray of optimism, Walls said.

“They injected stem cells in her eyes, and that’s supposed to stimulate nerve repair,” he said. “It’s a very difficult injury. A lot of it involves physiological issues. Just a dab of improvement is a milestone to the family.”

So does that mean that Sanders will never get the chance to fulfill her fondest dream, that of finally being able to get her driver’s license?

“If my position is to promote hope, then I think that’s what we need to do,” Walls said. “And who, knows, maybe one of these times it will stick to the wall. But that [prior procedure] does not preclude doing another one. That will be up to the family to decide.”