Loudoun Co. nonprofit raises money to help 16-year-old Blessing see again

4 people outside a doctor's office
The Stage organization helps the Amugas get a vital surgery. (Courtesy The Stage)
mother and daughter
For years, doctors believed Blessing Amuga, 16, suffered from keratoconus, a condition in which the cornea of the eye becomes thinner and takes the shape of a cone. (Courtesy The Stage)
outside a shelter
The Amuga family needed a vital medical procedure while experiencing homelessness. (Courtesy The Stage)
Members of the nonprofit The Stage raise funds for humanitarian causes. (Courtesy The Stage)
4 people outside a doctor's office
mother and daughter
outside a shelter

For years, doctors believed Blessing Amuga, 16, suffered from keratoconus, a condition in which the cornea of the eye becomes thinner and takes the shape of a cone. The condition leads to a person being very light sensitive.

“It’s very painful when it (light) goes into my eyes, it’s really hard for me to read,” Amuga said.

Her education is important to her, but for this 11th grader, the condition has made it difficult for her to do required reading because she has to take frequent breaks to keep the pain and headaches at bay.

Her mother, Mercy Amuga, said the migraines that come with the condition can be debilitating and have resulted in several emergency room visits for the young girl.

“The headache affects her so that she can’t do anything, and she becomes numb,” her mother said.

Treatment involves expensive surgery on each eye. Living at a homeless shelter, Blessing’s mother said they needed a miracle to get her the surgery.

That miracle came from a Loudoun County nonprofit organization started by an area music teacher and her students called The Stage.

“We have … many students of the school who are driving (the organization). I’m really in the back seat at this point,” said Veena Pandiri, owner of Notes n’ Beats Music School.

At a performance at Amuga’s homeless shelter, the students heard her story and her need for two surgeries, and they decided to help. The first surgery would happen for Blessing soon after this meeting.

“We decided to contact multiple surgeons that could do the surgery for her, and we found a surgeon in Maryland who could do it,” said 15-year-old Rinay Kalluri.

That surgeon was pediatric surgeon Dr. Vike Vicente who practices in Chevy Chase. Vicente with funds from University Opthalmic consultants of Washington and Aid Association for the Blind of the District of Columbia completed the surgery on the first eye.

Now, the students — 17-year-olds Nitya Manikonda and Amogha Chetta; Aakash Kolluri and Rinay Kalliuri, both 15; and Sahasra Potturi and Sowmya Ramesh, both 14 — are performing music and using ticket sales and donations to try and fund the $3,000 that Amuga needs for her second eye surgery.

“This process is going really well. So, we’re really happy with the outcome, but there’s still more to go,” Manikonda said.

The nonprofit was founded after Pandiri dealt with and later beat cancer. The group started by doing shows that benefit people going through chemotherapy, and it has since expanded to helping others in need, such as the Amugas.

“Over the last several years, we’ve been able to donate over $130,000 for several causes related to health and education,” Pandiri said.

For Blessing, the group have really made a difference for her, with the first surgery on her first eye a success.

“I’m really thankful I’m getting the surgery, too. So hopefully that will also work out for me,” Blessing said.

For Blessing’s mother, the group was a bright light during a dark time.

“It is not easy to be homeless and to have no hope. But these people have given me hope,” Mercy said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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