AYER -- Hundreds showed up at Billiard's Café in Ayer on Friday, Nov. 2 to raise funds for 7-year old Ava Sheriff of Ayer. It was all part of an event called "Ava's Vision of Hope."
"It was awesome, said Ava's grandmother, Margaret McGuane Kidder of Ayer. "Ava was there. She got up on stage and thanked everybody for coming."
"She was a little overwhelmed. There were so many people there," said Kidder. "It was truly a community event."
Crowds spilled out of the rear of the café to enjoy hamburgers and hot dogs grilled up by the Ayer-Shirley Boy Scouts, and a fire pit roared to keep revelers warm. Despite the upset Hurricane Sandy wrought on the area earlier in the week, supporters came out in droves to support Ava.
Back inside the café, family friend Jason Rakip manned the microphone and served as the auctioneer for 15 live auction items. There was also a lot of action on 91 silent auction items up for bids. Money raised helps Ava's family defray mounting medical expenses.
Born severely myopic, Ava was extremely near-sighted and began wearing glasses at 10-months old. Ava's oval-shaped eyes have caused her retinas to detach.
Ava lost vision in her left eye at age 2. Ava was too young to timely communicate the vision loss to her parents in time for corrective surgery. Due to extreme pain, Ava's left eye was later removed.
During that procedure, doctors discovered that the retina in Ava's right eye was also detaching and that surgery would be required. Ava's right eye continued to function with limited eyesight for five years until this year when the retina in her right eye detached three times in four months.
Three surgeries followed. Ava lost her sight completely after the second surgery, and has not regained any vision. All in all, Ava has undergone nine surgeries.
Doctors at Mass Eye and Ear and Duke University Hospital hope to keep her retina attached for the health of her eye, although they are unsure if her vision will ever return.
Ava and her family have moved forward by preparing Ava for the world ahead. In anticipation of going blind, Ava has been learning Braille and has been taking mobility lessons for the past two years.
Through it all, Kidder said Ava has maintained a strong spirit and can-do attitude. "She wants to be a star by the time she turns 8."
Ava is a second-grade student at the Page Hilltop Elementary School in Ayer, who enjoys playing with her dolls, and visits to Old Orchard Beach with her "Grandma-ma."
Ava also enjoys play dates with friends, swimming at her grandparents' cottage, and soon Ava hopes to start piano lessons. Ava's already figuring on a career as a lawyer.
"She has an amazing personality," said Kidder. "She knows she can't see but she's making the best of it."
Kidder said the family is very grateful for those who've donated to date. Donations may be made to Ava's Vision of Hope, c/o Fidelity Bank, 21 Main St. Shirley, MA 01454.