ST. LOUIS (KTVI) – She's become the embodiment of the tragedy of gun violence in St. Louis. Latasha Williams, 15, lost an eye in a drive-by shooting at 20th and Ferry in North St. Louis is September. For the past 5 months, people have been wearing eye patches in support. Now, Latasha no longer needs a patch, thanks to a special connection. Lives have a way of colliding that even two good eyes can’t see coming.
Bruce Cook is an ocularist at the Anheuser-Busch Eye Institute.
His team has made more than 15,000 artificial eyes the past 35 years. Friday, it was different. There was just “something” about that young woman in his chair: Latasha Williams.
Maybe he saw a bit of himself in the eye she still had and the replacement he was sculpting for the one she’d lost. He shared a revelation with her that he rarely tells anyone: he also had an artificial eye. “There was a strain of pneumonia that was attacking kid’s eyes. I was one of them. It hasn’t slowed me down though,” he told her. He lost sight in his left eye at age 2 and didn’t get an artificial eye until 6 years later.
“So I had this shrunken, disfigured eyeball until I was 8 years old,” he said.
Latasha lost her left eye in September. She was buying treats as a reward for good grades when someone riddled the MV Market with bullets. “And I looked down and I saw big puddle of blood and I was wondering where it came from. I was checking my face with my hands,” she told FOX 2 days after the shooting. Friends, even strangers, started wearing eye patches in support and posting photos on a Facebook page for Latasha called “Sight Beyond Eyes”.
But nothing seemed to shake her mother’s sadness…until Friday.
She was crying but they were “happy tears,” she said. Latasha went through a close to 3 hour process at Cook’s lab. Cook and his daughter Corrine, also an ocularist, painstakingly sculpted and fitted a wax prototype of an artificial eye. Then, they molded and cured an acrylic duplicate of her seeing eye. Cook’s daughter, the “eye” artist, delicately painted the iris layer by layer. She glued on ultra-fine red, silk threads to match the veins of Latasha’s right eyeball until it was nearly an exact duplicate. She sanded way rough spots, buffed, and polished the artificial eye.
Then it was time to see how it looked. “That looks awesome,” Latasha’s mother, Donnitta Turner beamed. “Thank you,” Latasha said to Bruce and Corrine Cook, smiling the biggest of smiles. “You’re in my club now. It’s between you and me,” Bruce Cook told her.
“When she looks in the mirror and she sees what we do, I want her to be happy. I want her mom to be happy. I want everyone that’s here to look and say, ‘oh wow, that’s what I wanted to see’,” Cook said.
“[They look] the exact same to me, no different,” Turner said.
“Normal again, how it used to look,” Latasha said. “Like anything’s still possible.”
Police have yet to make an arrest for the shooting.
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Along with the “Sight Beyond Eyes” Facebook page, there’s a “Sight Beyond Eyes” GoFundMe site to benefit Latasha.
She said she still planned on going to law school and becoming a prosecutor.