Pasco author takes time with girl losing her sight

Sofia Martinez has a great deal in common with Scott Smiley.

Both have charismatic personalities, positive outlooks on life, a strong faith and a wealth of compassion for others. They also are blind.

The two met for the first time Thursday night when Smiley stopped by Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Kennewick to sign copies of his best-selling book Hope Unseen.

Sofia, the daughter of Rene Satterfield Martinez, is a 9-year-old Prosser girl who suffers from Batten disease, a rare and incurable genetic disorder that steals eyesight. It also eventually causes seizures and will rob her of muscle control and brain function.

Sofia is legally blind but can still see a little bit, said her mother. "We're told she has about one more year, then she'll be totally sightless."

Smiley, a 1999 Pasco High graduate who has become the Army's first blind active-duty officer, lost his eyesight in 2005 in an explosion in Iraq triggered by a suicide bomber while serving in the military. Shrapnel struck him in the eyes and entered his brain, blinding him.

Thursday night's meeting between the man and child was soulful.

"Sofia was glowing," Smiley said. "She was curious about how I moved with a stick, if I have a dog; she even read a book to my son. She's an amazing little girl."

Sofia remembers Smiley's words of encouragement.

"He said God has a plan for me and I should stay positive," she said. "And I plan to."

Sofia's mom said the meeting with Smiley was special.

"For Scotty and his wife to take the time to meet with Sofia was so kind, and it meant a lot to her," Satterfield Martinez said. "We have good days and bad days. This was definitely a great day."

Modern computer technology is helping Sofia adjust to her sightless world, her mother said.

As her vision fades, she uses PenFriend, a voice labeler, to find things she needs at home. When the pen is pointed as various foods, it gives voice prompts so Sofia will know that she is choosing yogurt instead of sour cream, for instance.

"Sofia likes to be as independent as she can be," her mother said. "The PenFriend is a great way for her to do things for herself."

With medical expenses mounting, a fund has been set up in Sofia's name at Yakima Federal Savings and Loan banks.

"She has a big faith," her mother added. "She's upbeat and positive, and the community of Prosser and the Tri-Cities has been wonderful."

-- Dori O'Neal: 509-582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com