Read more about Kai online here.
Eleven-year-old Kai Owens is a vivacious, lovable, smiling fifth-grader at Brooklet Elementary School who likes to break-dance, beat-box, skim-board, and have “killer Nerf wars.”
Sounds like a typical boy, but a diagnosis for Kai in April dramatically changed the entire Owens family.
Kai has retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that causes the loss of vision. With RP, peripheral vision diminishes first, then the loss of central vision occurs.
Kai is slowly losing his sight, but his faith seems to grow exponentially with each day.
“I still believe that God can heal me,” Kai tells his mom, “but if He doesn’t that’s OK too, because I know His ways are better than ours. He has a plan, Mom.”
Kim and Chris Owens became suspicious of some changes in Kai in late third grade and early fourth grade, such as unusual anxieties and a sudden aversion to doing his homework.
Having worn glasses since second grade because of a slight astigmatism, Kai had regular eye exams. The exams, however, didn’t show the loss of peripheral vision and, because it was a gradual change in sight, Kai compensated for the loss and was not able to verbalize that something was different.
The Owenses took Kai in for an eye exam and after many other appointments, tests, scans and photos, the doctor confirmed the findings: RP – no proven treatment, no cure.
The early days of diagnosis were filled with tears, questions, answers, no answers – and an appreciation of blessings, no matter how small.
A support team vision specialists and counselors was quickly established, and an action plan was laid out. Kai began using technology at school, including a special machine to enlarge his papers, and began seeing a teacher for the visually impaired three days a week.
Kai also began studying Braille, learning to use a cane, listening to audio books, and learning keyboarding. He hopes to have a guide dog one day, too.
Kim Owens praised the Bulloch County school system for meeting Kai’s vision loss needs and for supplying amazing teachers to work with him.
Kai is doing his part to help his classmates understand the changes he is going through. Earlier this school year, with the help of his teacher, Kai bravely and knowledgably delivered a PowerPoint presentation to all Brooklet Elementary fifth-graders about his condition.
When Kai’s parents or older brother, Cash, get discouraged, Kai is the one to lift their spirits. Not that long ago, Kai said: “Mom, really, we are a blessed family. Cash and I are blessed with great parents. You and Dad are blessed with two great kids, and we have the best pets. … We really have everything that we need.”
Kai’s determination and faith are encouraged by others with visual imparities the family has met. The Owenses met a local couple, David and Ann Jacobs. David, who has RP, provides a wealth of information and support to the family and presented Kai with a talking watch that he proudly shows off to anyone who wants to see and hear it.
The family also met Luke Putney, a successful and dynamic young Tennessee college student who is visually impaired.
Because of their mentoring, Kai wants to help someone, too, and recently met a 17-month-old toddler with no vision he hopes to mentor as he approaches school age.
“I want to be there for him, like Mr. David and Luke have been for me,” Kai said.
The family is unsure of what the future holds. They take it one day at a time and, sometimes, one vision test at a time.
Showing great spiritual maturity, Kai said: “Each night, I pray to be on God’s path, not just to be healed, but to be on His path.”
“It’s just my vision,” he added. “It’s not going to change me or my personality. I can still do anything I normally do.”
And it’s that determination that will most likely see him through to be the entertainer that he hopes to be. An entertainer who break-dances, beat-boxes, educates others about low vision and passionately shares God’s plan for his life.