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MIKAHISSA COTY:Single dad keeps it together as his princess battles a blinding tumor

QuestCinq notes:Story like this needs to be told/read! QC encourages you to donate or help any way you can. See the end of the story and/or contact The Palm Beach Post.

Mikahissa Coty, 13, is blind and has severe cognitive and neurological deficits from a brain tumor. Her father Joel Coty brought his tiny daughter here from Haiti when she was 4 to raise her as a single father in a place both could live a better life. (Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

“Do you like my bracelet?” Mikahissa Coty asks, a delicate pink beaded treasure dangling from her outstretched wrist. It matches her girly hat, all knit pastels with a giant bow, a joy to see.

Except she can’t see it.

Following a March surgery no one was sure she would survive, a brain tumor took her sight. The tumor, which necessitated the chemotherapy that also has taken her hair (hence, the hat), has eaten away at her cognitive ability. And, Mikahissa, who prefers to be called Princess Mikahissa, is not the kind of royalty to complain much or worry. No, that silent task is left to her father.

“It hurts me. But the cancer did not just start. It has been in place for a long time,” says Joel Coty, 37, who brought his tiny daughter here from Haiti to raise her as a single father in a place both could live a better life. A year later his “very active” baby girl, then 4 years old, was struck still and listless from what turned out to be that tumor, called an optic chiasmatic hypothalmic glioma.

It’s been this way for almost nine years, this quiet, proud man faithfully toiling between his job as a cook at a West Palm Beach chain restaurant and caring for his child, now almost 14. They took a break from treatment for a while, “but it made the tumor bigger,” Coty says.

Despite the blood clots Mikahissa developed in both legs this spring, the surgeries, treatments and close calls, her father has rallied, regrouped, continued on. What choice does he have?

Mikahissa gives a thumbs up after her first surgery at age 4, for the brain tumor. (Family photo)
Mikahissa gives a thumbs up after her first surgery at age 4, for the brain tumor. (Family photo)

“You have no idea how many times they’ve been referred to hospice,” says Barbara Abernathy, executive director of the Pediatric Oncology Support Team (POST) on the campus of St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Three years ago, Joel’s mother, Marilia Cauthy, moved from Haiti to help care for Mikahissa. Their rented home is sparsely furnished — they don’t have a couch — and Mikahissa and her grandmother share the only bed, leaving Joel to sleep on the floor. But this is not a family that complains or demands. “I’m not really good at asking,” he says, even when the restaurant cut Joel’s hours to 20 a week as he shuttles his girl to her chemo treatments.

“They let me have time off to be with her before her surgery,” Joel explains, because they thought this might be their last brief time together. But Mikahissa survived. And she keeps on smiling.

Even as her sight has diminished to shapes and shadows, she can still hear her beloved Scooby-Doo cartoons, and sing you the theme song. She can still hold tight a doll she has just received as a gift. She happily prepares pretend meals for her father with the miniature play kitchen at the POST offices.

The only thing she seems to want is to be a normal student. She collapsed from a seizure in class in January and has not been healthy enough to return since.

“Where would you go if you could go on vacation?” a friend asks.

The Princess Mikahissa answers without hesitation.

“To school.”

Single father Joel Coty has struggled for years to support his daughter, Mikahissa, who recently went blind from a tumor that developed in her brain when she was 4 years old. They have very little furniture — Joel sleeps on the floor. So, in addition to a bed, the family needs a sofa and a television for the living room, and a dining set so that they may eat together. Mikahissa would benefit from a radio with a CD player, as well as children’s books on CD for her to listen to. She also needs adaptive educational equipment for the blind, a play kitchenette for her home and money to help with their rent and household bills, which her father struggles to pay since his work hours as a cook have been drastically reduced as he cares for his daughter.

NOMINATED BY: Pediatric Oncology Support Team at St. Mary’s Medical Center

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