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To save his sight

A mother digs up her biological roots trying to find a cause and a cure for her son’s gradual blindness

November 21, 2017
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer (apeterson@esthervillenews.net) , Estherville News

Editor's note: This is the second in a series on adoption for National Adoption Month in November.

By Amy H. Peterson

Staff Writer

Article Photos

Jodi Rezac Bonner was adopted through the Sioux City office of Catholic Charities, and grew up in the Estherville area. The mother of four saw her first biological relative when her son, Cody, was born.

Bonner was a happy adoptee, but was also curious about her roots. "I never looked like anyone my whole life," Bonner said.

One day when he was thirteen, Cody came home and said he couldn't see the board at school.

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"Most of the reunions people see are these warm, fuzzy, joyful ones on Oprah or Long Lost Family. Things don't always turn out the way you want them to, but I keep believing everything happens for a reason."

Jodi Rezac Bonner

After visits to the doctor, a referral to the ophthalmologist, the answer was devastating: optic nerve atrophy. Breaks down the nerve connection between the eye and the brain, it's degenerative, and Cody's eyesight degenerated quickly. Within months, he had lost all sight in one eye, and has tunnel vision similar to looking through a straw in the other.

The family moved to Wisconsin, because the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired is considered one of the best public schools for the blind in the nation, and Cody and the family needed to deal with his new reality and give Cody the chance to learn life skills no one ever thought he'd need.

"What kept coming up in my mind was, 'what caused this?'" Bonner said.

A doctor told her it's hereditary from the mother's side.

Bonner's DNA heritage was a mystery, and her only clues were in a packet of non-identifying information Catholic Charities gave to her adoptive parents: birth mother's age, grandparents' ages, how many aunts and uncles, but there was no medical information that would help.

Bonner contacted Catholic Charities. The person on the other end of the phone told her the cost would be $400 to look up her records, and given the staffing shortages, it could take four to six months.

Her heart sank.

She called back and explained the urgency of the situation.

A more sympathetic voice told her, "I'll just do it. I'll see what I can do."

Bonner still didn't hope for much, and was shocked when the call came back the next day.

Bonner's aunt had already contacted Catholic Charities. After only having a brother, Bonner found out she is one of four sisters born to her birth mother, Cindy: the first and third, she kept. The second (Bonner) and fourth were placed for adoption. Bonner and the next sister hit it off and are very close. Bonner's grandparents have been warm and welcoming.

Unfortunately, Bonner's birth mother has issues with addiction and does not want a relationship with her. She's not sure of the correct information about her birth father, and no one has yet submitted information for a DNA test to determine a genetic root for Cody's issues.

A great grandmother did become blind in her 50s and lived to be 100 years old. Without the DNA of more relatives, it's difficult to know the root of the disorder.

Meanwhile, one of Bonner's daughters has the same condition, though it's not expected to advance as quickly. Usually, optic nerve atrophy happens to people over 40. For Cody to develop it at 13 was very unusual.

Bonner's parents were supportive of her search, and happy she was able to discover her roots, even though not all the news was happy.

"Most of the reunions people see are these warm, fuzzy, joyful ones on Oprah or Long Lost Family. Things don't always turn out the way you want them to, but I keep believing everything happens for a reason."

 
 
 

 

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