Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
Eighteen-year-old Tonika Naedia Hope Williams, who came to national attention in 2003 because of a lawsuit outlining why she was legally blind, is making great strides to pursue her goal.
Tonika became blind six months after - despite her low birth weight - medical personnel at the Bustamante Hospital for Children did not recommend that her eyes be tested by an ophthalmologist.
She was successful this year in passing eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects with a distinction in Spanish.
Tonika, who attended Ardenne High School, is hoping to go to sixth form.
The multimillion-dollar negligence suit, which attorney-at-law Anthony Williams and his wife, Naedia, had brought against the Bustamante Hospital for Children seeking compensation for their daughter, has helped to save the sight of many children in Jamaica.
The hospital accepted liability and the case was settled out of court.
"This case has set a precedent and standard for all children born prematurely and are exposed to oxygen that they must be tested by an ophthalmologist," said Williams.
He noted that, with his daughter's challenges and disability, he is proud of her achievement and grateful to all those who assisted and encouraged her.
"I feel very elated because a lot of persons motivated me to be successful," said Tonika.
She said her parents, her younger sisters Maleeka and Ayeeka, other family members, persons who are visually impaired, and the Ardenne High School staff and students were instrumental in encouraging her and she is very grateful to them. Tonika got a Grade 1 pass in Spanish and five Grade 2 passes and two Grade 3 passes. She is planing to do Spanish, communications studies, management of business, sociology, and economics in sixth form.
She is positive that despite the challenges, she will be successful and says her next step will be to attend the University of the West Indies to pursue a degree in international relations, specialising in Spanish, as her goal is to be an interpreter.
Exam reader used
Tonika's mother explained that they had to get a personal assistant to go to school with Tonika to read for her. When it was time for her to do her CSEC examinations, the school got an independent person to be a reader and writer for Tonika and that person was invigilated by Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) personnel.
"She studied very hard," her mother said last week. She said family members assisted Tonika with her studies at home and she also got support using JAWS (Job Access With Speech), the screen-reading software.
Williams said Tonika got a grade two pass in computer science.
Tonika said she does not allow her disability to hinder her from participating in activities. She was a member of the school choir, Key Club, and a student council representative.
She is a member of the Kingston Open Bible Church and, with her strong faith in God, she believes that one day she will be able to see.
When Tonika was born on May 18, 1995, she weighed 1.2 kilograms and had to be given oxygen because of respiratory distress. She was immediately transferred to the Bustamante Hospital for Children and was discharged on June 15, 1995. After that, she was under the care of a doctor attached to the hospital.
Tonika's eyes were never tested and it was in January 1996 that her parents discovered that she was not seeing and they went to an ophthalmologist who confirmed she was legally blind. She was taken overseas by her parents for medical treatment and were informed by medical experts that once a baby's birth weight was below three pounds (1.36 kg), the attending paediatrician or the hospital must refer the baby to an ophthalmologist to be examined as early as possible. The examination must be within four to six weeks after birth.