Quinterrius Eatmon did what fathers do; he took a picture of his little girl.
Melaynna was, at that moment in 2014, nine months old and she’d been blind since birth, a rare congenital disorder robbing her of sight.
But as her father thumbed the shutter on his smartphone and the tiny flash fired, Melaynna did something, not just unusual, but unprecedented. She turned toward the light.
So Quinterrius Eatmon did what fathers do; he took another picture of his little girl.
It was from a different angle this time because as much as you might hope, as much as you may get down on your knees every night and pray, blind little girls – girls the doctors have told you will never see your face – they do not see.
This time, Melaynna turned her face towards the light. And then she laughed.
“It was a miracle.”
Melaynna Eatmon was born with Septo-optic dysplasia, which affects both the development of the optic nerves and connective tissue between the right and left sides of the brain. Exceedingly rare – it’s found in only one in every 10,000 newborns – doctors told Eatmon and his wife that Melaynna’s optic nerves were so small she’d never be able to see.
“She couldn’t see at all, she was completely blind,” said Eatmon, now an offensive lineman with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
But after her reaction to the camera flash, Melaynna began a treatment regimen that included specialists, surgery and almost daily therapy. Eatmon, then a junior at the University of South Florida, found himself trying to juggle the demands of football, school and the needs of his little girl.
“It was not easy and I do think it affected me on the field,” Eatmon says. “It was very stressful: my family depending on me, my teammates depending on me. I felt a lot of pressure.”
There wasn’t a lot of family support. Growing up in the small town of Prichard, Alabama, Eatmon was raised by a single mother who worked multiple jobs to support her three children.
“I grew up in poverty – and I mean poverty,” he says. “We were damn near homeless.”
But Melaynna continued to improve. She didn’t crawl until she was a year old – most kids are walking by then – but was running six months later. While the vision in her right eye remains impaired, her development has continued to the point where she now uses an iPad, watches TV and plays just like any normal four-year-old.
“I try and FaceTime her every day but she’s so busy, so active, sometimes she’s just like ‘Daddy, I can’t talk, I’ve got to go play. I love you to the moon and back, call you tomorrow,” Eatmon says. “I literally don’t get a word, she gone. She’s like a regular kid.”
With his daughter’s health no longer a daily concern, Eatmon has been able to focus more on his football career. After graduating with a degree in economics, he spent time with the Oakland Raiders before coming to the CFL last season. He’s bounced from Saskatchewan to Ottawa to Montreal before landing with the Ticats just over two weeks ago.
“This, this very moment is easier than my entire 25 years up until this point,” he says. “Things are settling in and I’m getting an opportunity to show what I can do at the professional level.”
On Saturday, Eatmon will make his first CFL start against the Calgary Stampeders, lining up at right tackle for the Ticats. The game will be streamed on ESPN3 and he’s hoping his little girl, back home in Atlanta with her mother, will fire up her iPad.
“That’s all I want. After what we went through, what she went through, for her to actually see me play…” Eatmon has to stop for a moment.
“It would mean the world to me.”