“I had my eye removed on May 29, which was a Sunday.”
That’s the way Patricia Kearns, 62, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., began the tale of the 1988 fireworks injury that led to the loss of her right eye.
As she tells it, Kearns and her husband lived in a lovely home along a canal. That evening they were hosting a dinner party for about 100 people, honoring the new president of a local Catholic high school where her husband was on the board.
A string quartet played as people chatted and ate. “It’s not like people were jumping around with lampshades on their heads,” Kearns said. “This was a pretty conservative crowd.”
The party began winding down about 10:30 p.m., and by 11 p.m., enough people had left to allow Kearns to shed her hostess duties and enjoy a drink herself. The quartet continued to play at her request.
Then out of nowhere, she heard an odd statement. “Someone made a comment about, ‘Oh, are those fireworks? Why are they shooting at us?'” Kearns recalled.
A pair of 13-year-old boys in a backyard across the canal had taken out some bottle rockets and were firing them at the people left at Kearns’s party.
Kearns didn’t have time to process anything else. “I just remember this wave of pressure on the right side of my face,” she said. “The next thing I knew, I was on the ground and someone was saying, ‘Keep her head up!'”
Emergency workers took her to a local hospital, and the decision was made to transfer her immediately to Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. She arrived by ambulance in the wee hours of the morning.
Kearns’s doctor at the institute told her that they were going to try to save her eye, and that she would undergo surgery that afternoon. She recalls having little hope.
“I knew I was going to lose my eye,” she said. “I just knew. I remember during the initial examination, someone saying, ‘That’s her cornea on her eyelash.’ I thought they’d try to salvage what they could, but it was just gone.”
She woke up after the operation with a pressure bandage on her face. She was told that the damage had been too extensive and that they’d had to remove her eye.
The Kearnses reported the incident to the police, but the boys were never charged with a crime, she said. But, the Kearnses did collect a $1 million settlement from a civil suit, which she said they donated to Bascom Palmer.
Kearns underwent reconstructive surgery and now uses a hand-painted prosthetic eye made of dental plastic. “If you saw me, you wouldn’t know I’m missing an eye, and then you’d wonder which eye it was,” she said.
All told, Kearns said, she counts her blessings.
“I’m lucky to be alive, and I’m lucky only one eye was affected,” she said. “I could have been totally blinded.”
But she still misses her right eye.
“There’s a part of me that still says, ‘Why did this happen?'” Kearns said. “But I know why it happened. These kids were unsupervised, and these fireworks are dangerous things.”
A companion article offers information on preventing injuries from fireworks.