Berline Mercy Senelier loved her job as a pediatric intensive care nurse. She loved her independence and the home she bought in Royal Palm Beach.
But then something strange started happening. She began bumping into things. At first, she shrugged it off, but she soon realized something was wrong with her vision. When she found out why, the 28-year-old nurse was stunned.
“It was a tumor — it had tails that were wrapped around the optic nerves,” Berline said.
Wheeled into surgery on Jan. 12, 2009, she had been assured there was only a small chance of complications.
When she awoke 10 hours later, she was enveloped in darkness.
She was blind.
She held out hope her sight would come back.
It never did.
Within a matter of months, she lost her house, her job and her health insurance.
She refused to give in to despair. Instead, she set off for Daytona Beach where she spent a year in a rehabilitation center learning how to live with blindness. She reconnected with an old sweetheart and married him. She fought to establish a new life, moving in with her family in Delray Beach.
She then got hit by two pieces of news: She had another tumor and she was pregnant.
In her second trimester, she called the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Palm Beach County, a program funded by Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County. The coalition helped set her up with a nurse through the Nurse-Family Partnership so she could receive consistent prenatal care. It turned out Berline developed preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition characterized by dangerously high blood pressure.
She ended up having an emergency C-section and giving birth to a healthy 6-pound, 15-ounce boy she named Ethan. Four days after Ethan’s arrival, her blood pressure spiked so high she feared she might die.
“I said, ‘Where’s Ethan? Let me touch his feet. This is serious,’” Berline said. “I said, ‘He’s only four days old. God, don’t do that. Please.’”
Berline, now 34, recovered. And Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies service coordinator Marinelly Castro has been there for her, ensuring she gets everything from needed medical services to a car seat.
“It’s like one source that branches out into so many different things,” Berline said. “I’ve been able to have a lot of my needs met and Ethan’s needs met.”
“It wasn’t just, ‘Let me give you a number,’” Berline said. “There were times that (Castro) would do the research. I would come by her office and stop to say hi and she would say, ‘Hey, come in.’ She hugs me and hugs Ethan. It’s not just somebody working for a paycheck. It’s someone who really cares.”
Castro said Berline has inspired her.
“She has changed me as a person,” Castro said. “I’ve had days when I want to complain and then I think of Berline and I’m like, ‘No, you can’t let things bring you down.’ She really is amazing.”
Gail Kleinert, the executive director of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Palm Beach County, compares Berline to the Energizer Bunny — no matter what, she won’t stop.
“We expect nothing but great things from her and we are so proud to be part of her journey,” Kleinert said. “We’ll be there as she continues her journey.”