LEWISTON, Idaho -- At the age of 2, an accident left Alaina Kaufman completely blind in her right eye.
Now, the Lewiston 19-year-old is hoping to raise enough money for a prosthetic eye that will give her a new outlook on life. Since elementary school, she's kept the damaged eye covered by a swoop of hair, but this can lead to awkward inquiries.
"I work in the food industry and it's my dream to become a chef someday," said Kaufman, the daughter of Steve Ross and Cassie Kaufman. "That's kind of difficult when I'm too insecure to not have (my hair) in my face. It makes me feel really uncomfortable. Mostly, I just don't want people to feel like I'm disabled, because I don't feel disabled."
Earlier this year, Kaufman, a 2011 Lewiston High School graduate, was contacted via Facebook by Lincoln, Mont., resident Laurie Parks. Originally from Asotin, Parks is Kaufman's half-brother's aunt and operates the historic Hotel Lincoln in the small Montana town. Although they've never met in person, Parks felt an immediate connection to Kaufman because a few years ago, she received a prosthetic eye herself after developing a severe cataract.
"I know what it's like to live without an eye," she said. "She shouldn't have to go through life like this. This is the time of her life for confidence."
Parks is helping Kaufman raise $4,000 for an "Erickson," a custom prosthetic eye named after Kim Erickson, an ocularist who practices in Spokane. Erickson designs and hand-paints each eye to match the patient's eye color and fit perfectly in their eye socket, according to his website.
"It's kind of like a contact basically -- it's just really thick," Kaufman said. "What it does is makes it look like a normal eye."
In Parks' case, the eye had to be removed, but Kaufman believes she'll get to keep hers. She'll know more when she travels to Spokane for a consultation with Erickson in February.
Kaufman isn't sure exactly what happened when she lost her eye 17 years ago. She was at day care and believes a piece of glass from a shattered light fixture became embedded in her eye.
"They said a light fixture fell, but they changed their story up a lot, so I don't actually know what happened," she said. "They did like nine surgeries on it over the course of a couple years, but it's completely blind now."
Kaufman said she used to be extremely insecure about her eye, but is now able to talk about it with anyone who asks. A prosthetic eye would help her avoid the questions that sometimes come with her condition and focus on her career.
"I just would be a lot more comfortable," she said. "A lot of people look at you differently after they know. I'm comfortable with myself and I just feel like having a prosthetic would make it so I could do that without the judgment."
Parks has been collecting donations for a few months and said she's nearly halfway to the $4,000 mark. Donations can be sent by mail to Erickson's Eyes, 422 West Riverside Ave., Suite 730, Spokane, WA 99201. She has also set up a Facebook page titled "An eye for Alaina" to keep track of donations.
Kaufman said Parks' dedication to raising money for her new eye has been a welcome surprise. Her father considers Parks his daughter's angel.
"She didn't even really talk to me about it, she just straight up went out and did it," she said. "I've never met her and she's going out of her way to help me out, which is really awesome."
Gaboury may be contacted at kgabourylmtribune.com or (208) 848-2275.
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