Cerebral palsy hasn’t stopped Rachel Blythe

Published 6:50 pm Friday, March 29, 2019

Rachel Blythe constructed this collection box, on display at Pivot Therapy in Franklin, to take donations of used prescription eyeglasses for the Franklin Lions Club as part of her girl scout Silver Award project. She plans to check for donations each week through June 14. — Stephen Faleski Tidewater News


When Rachel Blythe, at two weeks old, developed an infection that caused her to stop breathing for nearly 25 minutes, the doctors at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk told her mother, Kimberly, that her daughter likely wouldn’t make it through the night.

Rachel had been born 3-1/2 months prematurely, weighing only 2 pounds 13 ounces. In defiance of the doctors’ grim prediction, she did indeed survive, but only one eighth of her brain remained undamaged from the oxygen deprivation she suffered that day, leading to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy at age 1.

“They said if she made it, she would have all types of problems, statistically, based on her diagnosis,” Kimberly said. “They just did not think she was ever going to do anything.”

Now, at age 13, the Southampton Middle School student has once again proven her doctors wrong. She has an individualized education program and needs a scribe, but she’s also joined the school’s band and has been inducted into the Junior National Honor Society at SMS.

“She does everything they said she’d never do,” Kimberly said. “She’s not walking yet, she has to have a little assistance getting dressed, but she can talk, which they said she’d never do.”

Outside of school, Rachel enters two to three natural (makeup-less) pageants each year and participates in a wheelchair racing team, Team Hoyt, in Virginia Beach. She was also the March of Dimes Ambassador in Southampton County for nine years.

“She physically cannot do sports; this is something she can do,” Kimberly said. “She wanted to try [pageants].”

When not participating in her own activities, Rachel can often be found in attendance at her brother Kendall’s Southampton Academy games.

“He plays every sport there is,” Kimberly said.

She added that her daughter is “really smart when it comes to worldly things” such as remembering grocery lists. “I don’t have to have a list, she can tell me exactly what I’m supposed to get, I just tell her before,” Kimberly said.

Rachel is also involved in Girl Scouts, and is working on her Silver Award project. The Silver Award is the second highest award a girl scout can attain, and the highest award a girl scout cadette (grades 6 through 8) can attain. For her project, Rachel constructed eyeglass recycling containers for the Franklin Lions Club and placed them at Pivot Therapy and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, both in Franklin. Her choice of the Lions Club for her project was partially influenced by her experiences growing up with a disability.

“She’s had 16 surgeries in her entire life,” Kimberly said. “Six of those have been eye surgeries.”

Rachel’s mother added that her daughter has been wearing glasses all her life and gets a new pair every year.

“We have tons of them,” Kimberly said. “One of her pageants at 4 to 5 years old, they did a glasses collection and were sending them to third-world countries. We were thinking about that with her project, since she had so many.”

To earn her Silver Award, Rachel must put in at least 50 hours on the project, including planning, researching places to put the completed boxes and traveling to each location each week to collect donated eyeglasses. Rachel hopes to complete her efforts by June and turn over all collected glasses to the Lions Club at that time.

Chuck Gatten, public relations director and chairman of the 2019 Franklin Lions Club Membership Drive, said that, in addition to Rachel’s planned donation, the club collects glasses from more than 15 locations around the city and county, and delivers them to a facility in Chesapeake. There, they are refurbished and categorized as to their purpose and magnification, for example, bifocals and reading glasses. After that, the club distributes the glasses to people in need of glasses who cannot afford them.