She saw the light, and it lit up her fa­ther’s life

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DREW ED­WARDS

Quin­ter­rius Eat­mon did what fa­thers do; he took a pic­ture of his lit­tle girl.

Me­laynna was, at that mo­ment in 2014, nine months old and she’d been blind since birth, a rare con­gen­i­tal dis­or­der rob­bing her of her sight.

But, as her f ather thumbed the shut­ter on his smart­phone and the tiny flash fired, Me­laynna did some­thing, not just un­usual, but un­prece­dented. She turned to­ward the light.

So Quin­ter­rius Eat­mon did what fa­thers do; he took an­other pic­ture of his lit­tle girl. It was from a dif­fer­ent an­gle this time be­cause as much as you might hope, as much as you may get down on your knees and pray every night, blind lit­tle girls — girls the doc­tors have told you will never see your face — they do not see.

This time, Me­laynna turned her face to­ward the light. And then she laughed. “It was a mir­a­cle.”

Me­laynna Eat­mon was born with Septo-op­tic dys­pla­sia, which af­fects both the de­vel­op­ment of the op­tic nerves and con­nec­tive tis­sue be­tween the right and left sides of the brain. Ex­ceed­ingly rare — it’s found in only one in every 10,000 new­borns — doc­tors told Eat­mon and his wife that Me­laynna’s op­tic nerves were so small she’d never be able to see. “She couldn’t see at all, she was com­pletely blind,” said Eat­mon, now an of­fen­sive line­man with the Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats.

But af­ter her re­ac­tion to the cam­era flash, Me­laynna be­gan a treat­ment reg­i­men that in­cluded spe­cial­ists, surgery and al­most daily ther­apy.

Eat­mon, then a ju­nior at Univer­sity of South Flor­ida, found him­self try­ing to jug­gle the de­mands of foot­ball, school and the needs of his lit­tle girl.

of foot­ball, school and the needs of his lit­tle girl.

“It was not easy and I do think it af­fected me on the field,” Eat­mon says. “It was very stress­ful: my fam­ily depend­ing on me, my team­mates depend­ing on me. I felt a lot of pres­sure.”

There wasn’t a lot of fam­ily sup­port. Grow­ing up in the small town of Prichard, Ala., Eat­mon was raised by a sin­gle mother who worked mul­ti­ple jobs to sup­port her three chil­dren.

“I grew up in poverty — and I mean poverty,” he says. “We were damn near home­less.”

But Me­laynna con­tin­ued to im­prove. She didn’t crawl un­til she was a year old — most kids are walk­ing by then — but was run­ning six months later. While the vi­sion in her right eye re­mains im­paired, her de­vel­op­ment has con­tin­ued to the point where she now uses an iPad, watches TV and plays just like any nor­mal four-year-old.

“I try and FaceTime her every day but she’s so busy, so ac­tive, some­times she’s just like ‘Daddy, I can’t talk, I’ve got to go play. I love you to the moon and back, call you to­mor­row,” Eat­mon says. “I lit­er­ally don’t get a word, she gone. She’s like reg­u­lar kid.”

With his daugh­ter’s health no longer a daily con­cern, Eat­mon has been able to fo­cus more on his foot­ball ca­reer. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a de­gree in eco­nom­ics, he spent time with the Oak­land Raiders be­fore com­ing to the CFL last sea­son. He’s bounced from Saskatchewan to Ot­tawa to Mon­treal be­fore land­ing with the Ti­cats just over two weeks ago.

“This, this very mo­ment is eas­ier than my en­tire 25 years up un­til this point,” he says. “Things are set­tling in and I’m get­ting an op­por­tu­nity to show what I can do at the pro­fes­sional level.”

On Satur­day, Eat­mon will make his first CFL start against the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers, lin­ing up at right tackle for the Ti­cats. The game will be streamed on ESPN3 and he’s hop­ing his lit­tle girl, back home in At­lanta with her mother, will fire up her iPad.

“That’s all I want. Af­ter what we went through, what she went through, for her to ac­tu­ally see me play ...” Eat­mon has to stop for a mo­ment.

“It would mean the world to me.”

SPE­CIAL TO THE SPEC­TA­TOR

Hamil­ton Tiger-Cats of­fen­sive line­man Quin­ter­rius Eat­mon plays with his daugh­ter Me­laynna, who was born with Septo-op­tic dys­pla­sia, a rare dis­or­der that af­fects only one in every 10,000 new­borns.

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