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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 8, 2011
After being blinded in his left eye
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
HILLTOWNS Thirteen-year-old Jeffrey Fusco has used words famously spoken by Martin Luther King, with a twist, to lead others against bullying.
On June 11, a classmate threw rocks at Fusco despite being asked to stop, according to the sheriff’s department. One of the rocks struck Fusco in his left eye.
The boy who threw the rocks, also age 13, was arrested for assault and reckless endangerment. The Fuscos declined to discuss the assault as the case is still in court.
Jeffrey Fusco’s eyeball was ruptured; he lost his iris, lens, retina, and ultimately his vision.
“I wanted to show people what happens when you bully somebody,” said Fusco. So he created a Facebook page called, “ ‘Eye’ have a dream to stop bullying.”
“Instead of making it sad and asking, ‘Why me?’ I wanted to make it positive,” said Fusco.
He dreams big. For the last three or four years, Fusco has dreamed of being an archaeologist. “I’ve always liked ancient Egypt,” he said. “I have so much stuff…statues and books, it’s like a shrine to ancient Egypt.”
Fusco, who was raised in the Hilltowns, describes himself as “70 percent country boy.” “I ride snowmobiles and I’m not afraid to get muddy,” he said. “He’s not a redneck,” said his mother, Michelle Fusco, who works as a waitress.
Fusco’s goal was to get 1,000 “likes” on his “ ‘Eye’ have a dream” Facebook page before school starts at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, originally scheduled for Thursday. He reached that goal on Tuesday.
“Right now,” Fusco said on Tuesday evening, “it says I have 1,039 ‘likes.’”
Those who indicated support, besides a large circle of family and friends, have come from across the country and as far away as Italy.
BKW bus driver Sherry Van Dyke wrote on the site to ask if she could use Fusco’s picture and his slogan “ ‘Eye’ have a dream to stop bullying” to hang in the front of her bus to enforce that she has no tolerance for bullying.
“I think it’s amazing what you have done,” she wrote. “Keep up the good work! You’re my hero!”
Teacher Laurie Osterhout wrote, “You have what it takes to make this much needed difference. Thank you for your courage….”
Parent Donna Gray also thanked Fusco for starting the page. “I have a daughter that gets bullied,” she wrote, adding she wished more young people would “think about the consequences of their nasty words and actions.”
Fusco, in turn, has been impressed with the courage of some of those who posted on his page and admitted not just that they had suffered from bullying but that they had been bullies themselves.
“Most wouldn’t admit to that,” he said.
Fusco’s mother helped him think of the words that top the page.
“As a result of recklessness, assault and bullying by another, he will spend the rest of his life blind in his left eye,” says the Facebook page. “If he is fortunate enough to be able to keep his eye, it will never be the same. Has this stopped Jeffrey? Not for one minute. He never whimpered, he never blamed, he never said, ‘why me?’ Instead, he decided he was on a mission, a mission to change lives. Follow him as he turns a senseless, avoidable tragedy into a triumph.
Asked if it is true that he never whimpered, Fusco said, “Every now and again, I would be like, ‘This sucks’ I’m not going to lie about it.”
His mother interjected, “The whole family was so angry…furious, but Jeffrey was never like that. We told him the third day he was in the hospital we didn’t know how to tell him that he’d probably lose his eye. He just said, ‘Mom, if the eye is going to be gross, I’d rather have a fake one.’”
She reiterated, “He was injured by a rock thrown at his eye.” Then, with that bit of background in place, Mrs. Fusco finished the hospital story: “He said, ‘Can I take it out and throw it?’”
Fusco was in Albany Medical Center Hospital for a week after he was struck, and has had several surgeries. “On the second surgery to re-attach the retina, once they got in there, they saw they couldn’t do it,” he said matter-of-factly.
While Fusco was in the hospital, the school principal, teachers, and a cheerleading squad visited him, his mother said. “The outpouring of support was amazing.”
He later had to return to the hospital for a six-day stay since his intestines were affected by his medication. “I was on so many antibiotics for my eye,” said Fusco.
“He struggled a lot over the summer,” said his mother. “He had some nightmares and bad thoughts. He’s been going to counseling. He’s kind of nervous about going back to school with one eye.”
When he goes to a crowded place, like the mall, Mrs. Fusco said, he has “one of us walk on the left side, his bad eye.”
The school, she said, is willing to make arrangements so he can pass to classes when the halls are not crowded. But, Mrs. Fusco continued, about the boy who has bullied her son and threw the rock that blinded him, “I’m nervous he’ll be facing this kid for the first time.”
She concluded, “The Facebook page has really given him the strength to go back and face what he has to face.”
A friend of Fusco from school, Katrinaa Robert, has commented on the “ ‘Eye’ have a dream” page, he said, and she wants to start an anti-bullying group with him. Fusco is going into the eighth grade and Robert will be a junior in high school.
“It would be an after-school program,” Fusco said, “to let kids that are bullied have a place to hang out and not feel alone.”
Fusco would also like to speak about bullying at an assembly at his school and perhaps at other schools, too. “I’ve already made a lot of people think about bullying,” he said, “and I want to do more.”