A Light in the Darkness
Grandmother's hobby offers brighter future for blind boy born prematurely

Patti Sells | News-Telegram Feature Editor

Parker Steele-Morgan lights up the the life and melts the heart of his grandmother, Lisa Johnson, who in turn creates and sells scented candles labeled "Parker's Lights" in order to help ensure that he has a bright future. Parker, now 22 months old, is blind due to his premature birth in 2003.
Staff photo by Ricky Russell

Nov. 28, 2004 -- A grandmother's candle-making hobby offers her blind grandson a flicker of hope for a brighter tomorrow as proceeds from what has come to be called "Parker's Lights" are put into a trust fund for his future.

"He melts my heart," said Parker's grandmother, Lisa Johnson. "He's given a new and deeper meaning to my love and faith."

A gentle snow was falling that Sunday, Jan. 12, 2003, when Parker came into this world 31�2 months prematurely. Lisa said she was "shocked and confused" when she got the phone call saying that her youngest daughter, Kristyn, a senior at Miller Grove High School at the time, was at Hopkins County Memorial Hospital in labor. The dismay didn't stem from Parker's early entry into this world, but rather the fact that she didn't even know her daughter was expecting a baby.

"I was like, 'But you've got to be pregnant.' I was just in shock," said Lisa. "She hid it from us by wearing big T-shirts. When we got to the hospital the entire senior class was there. They all knew, the teachers knew -- everybody knew, but us."

According to Lisa, Kristyn was supposedly going to tell them about her pregnancy that coming Thursday, after she had a sonogram identifying the sex of the baby. But after two bouts with a virus that had schools closing down across the state that winter, Kristyn found herself in the emergency room four days prior to her next doctor's appointment delivering a 1 pound, 101�2 ounce baby boy.

"No one expected him to even make it," recalled Lisa. "He was tiny, tiny. There's no cute when they're that little. You could see right through his skin. It was four months before we could even touch him. We had to be real quiet around him or he'd become over-stimulated. He had wires hooked up all over him. It was a really hard time. He wasn't supposed to be here yet."

Parker was transferred to the Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas where he stayed for more than six months and underwent 14 major surgeries, including eye surgeries, bowel surgeries, heart surgery, received a Broviac catheter (a temporary IV placed in the chest to administer medicines), blood transfusions, fluids and other nutrients, and he underwent numerous other complicated procedures, as well.

"Every time they took him to surgery the doctors and nurses would prepare us for the worst," Lisa remembered. "They would say, 'When they're this little, they just don't make it.' Worry and wondering if he was gonna live was a constant."

Each time, Parker amazed the doctors and medical staff by "pulling through." However, some of the procedures that saved his little life produced other complications. Due to being ventilated for the first 14 weeks of his life, the oxygen caused Parker's retina's to detach, according to Lisa. And in spite of five retinopathy surgeries, doctors informed the family that Parker would be blind because of the retina detachments.

According to Lisa, doctors say he can see shadow and light and may even have color perception. But they will not know for sure until he is old enough to tell them exactly what he can see.

"Kristyn took it really hard," recalled Lisa. "One of his eyes floats a little bit and they're kind of pink like he just woke up. I told her, 'No one is going to love him any less.' I think it makes me love him even more. And I don't want people to feel bad for him because he's going to do great things. I just have that feeling about him. I know all parents and grandparents think their children are special. But he REALLY is. Look at what he's come through. I believe there is a reason he made it through 14 surgeries."

Parker spent most of his first year in hospitals. After being released from Presbyterian he spent some time at Children's Medical Center and then he and his mother went to "Our Children's House"at Baylor, where Kristyn received nursing training on how to administer the 13 some-odd medications Parker came home on, as well as the care of his feeding tube, still attached to his tummy in order to supplement his nutrition.

"He's doing great," said Lisa of her 22-month-old "pride and joy."

Making candles became a therapeutic hobby for Lisa after Parker's birth. She said last year at this time she had so many candles that she prepared baskets of them to give family and friends at Christmastime.

"I've always loved candles, and they are so popular," Lisa said. "And Parker is just infatuated with them. He becomes mesmerized. I decided selling them would be a good way to benefit his future."

Since Parker was born prematurely under a certain birth weight, Medicaid, according to Lisa, automatically covered his medical expenses.

"We could never have afforded all this," explained Lisa, who said Parker's bills have exceeded $2 million. "This money will be for whatever else he may need in his life. He may want to go to college. He's gonna always have problems and may always need to be taken care of. My husband and I are putting our house in his name so when we're gone, he'll have this house. But the candles will provide money for whatever he may need when other funds are tight. Kristyn's a young mother just starting out on her own, and the money from Parker's Lights will be there to help out."

"The candles are awesome," said Kristyn, who went on to graduate third in her class at Miller Grove and recently married her childhood sweetheart. She currently attends classes at Sulphur Springs Tech Center, and due to her personal experience with Parker, she hopes to one day be a neonatal intensive care nurse. "If it weren't for my mom and my step-dad I wouldn't have got through this. They have been amazing through it all. My mom is my best friend."

According to Kristyn, her mother's candles are just another expression of her love for her and Parker.

Lisa uses Bath & Body Works scents such as Warm Vanilla Sugar, as well as Victoria's Secret scents like Halo, Devine and Heavenly. She also makes the very popular Thierry Mugler scent called Angel.

"There's one called God's Love that I'm anxious to try out," said Lisa.

Prices start at $8 for a 9-ounce candle, $10 for a 10-ounce candle, and all her 12-ounce Christmas candles sell for $10 as well.

Those wishing to purchase candles directly or business owners interested in displaying them in local stores can contact Lisa Johnson at 903-485-4025.

"He may not need any of the money I put back for him," said Lisa laughing. "You look at people like Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder and the amazing things they accomplished. I kinda think he's gonna be the next somebody like that. He's very special, and no words can describe what he means to me."

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