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By Hayley Kappes
Killeen Daily Herald
Brandi Benger knows her daughters' voices and habits, but has never seen their faces.
Benger was born with optic nerve hypoplasia, a congenital condition that occurs when the optic nerves do not fully develop during pregnancy.
Benger is legally blind. Faces appear as blurry objects, and she must read with an 8X magnifier half an inch from her face.
Early on, doctors told Benger that her condition could never improve and to give up on a cure.
It was a hit on her self esteem, but she gained a new-found hope about three months ago.
Brandi, 36, was approved to receive umbilical cord stem-cell treatments in China through Beike Biotech, a company based in Shenzhen, China, that provides stem cells to hospitals worldwide.
The stem cells are cultured from Wharton's jelly, a gelatinous substance found inside the umbilical cord.
The treatment requires eight stem-cell treatments, which cost $32,000 and take 35 days, so Benger and her husband, Steve, are on the fundraising march.
The Bengers are hosting a spaghetti dinner, bake sale and raffle at Pershing Park Baptist Church from 3 to 6 p.m. today to raise money.
Benger has also sought help from the Lion's Club, but has not heard back yet.
"Since I've had it since birth, I've never really thought about it," Benger said. "I've always been told there would never be any treatment so I've always adapted."
She doesn't drive and it's hard on the family if one of the children is sick.
When her daughter, Marlana, was learning how to write her name in school, she wrote it extra large so her mother would have a better opportunity to see it.
Several of Scott & White Hospital's optamologists declined to comment on the story because of the controversial nature of going overseas for medical treatments considered experimental.
Benger said 40 people have received stem-cell treatment for optic nerve hypoplasia, and there is a 90 percent success rate in vision improvement.
Of the 40 recipients, only two have been adults.
Benger said this is because most adults are hesitant about the procedure.
It could take up to two years for the recipient to see an improvement in vision.
Beike Biotech has treated recipients with stem cells since 2000.
"I have a really good feeling about it," Benger said. "I'm going to get there one way or the other."
Contact Hayley Kappes at
or (254) 501-7559.