This discovery was shocking to the Castillos. They certainly weren’t prepared for life with a blind child. The condition is so rare that they wanted to find answers.
What could have caused this? Was it something Donna could have prevented? Was it genetic? She told me about a British support group she became involved with called Microphthalmia, Anophthalmia & Coloboma Support, also known as MACS. There were 165 other families enduring a similar journey, and she found great support and comfort through their mutual connection.
As I listened to Donna share her story, I couldn’t help but think of my own son Andrew. He was the same age as little Johnny. I glanced at my boy’s photo, which sat in a frame on my desk. There he was, a beautiful, healthy kid. I got to go home every day and see him, and by the grace of God, he got to see me, too. I couldn’t fathom what life would be like if any of my children—Andrew; my oldest son James, who was then seven; or my daughter, Alexis, who had been born just months earlier in January—were suffering the way Johnny was.
My heart was genuinely broken for the Castillo family. They were humble people. Good people. I could see the anguish this had caused them. And yet I still wasn’t sure why they were sitting in my office that day.
“I’m sorry about your son, I really am; but I’m still unclear as to why you’re here,” I said. I wanted to be compassionate and understanding, but I’m a trial lawyer, not a therapist.
That’s when Donna told me about an investigation the London Observer and the BBC were both conducting. It was focused on a cluster of kids in Fife, Scotland, who were born without eyes. They all lived in an agricultural area where farmers frequently used a chemical called Carbendazim. Although sold under a different trade name, this chemical is similar to one made by DuPont called benomyl, the active ingredient in a product known as Benlate.
At the time, Benlate was the bestselling and most profitable agricultural product DuPont was selling worldwide. Pregnant women working with these products—primarily migrant workers—were giving birth to children with Johnny’s affliction.
A 1993 documentary called Field of Dreams followed the stories of these women and their children. John Ashton, an investigative reporter from the Observer, was digging deeper into the subject, contacting farmers and families to see if he could connect the dots. He got in touch with Donna and asked if she had lived near any farms when she was pregnant with John.
He asked if she had ever been sprayed by a foreign substance near one of those farms.
Donna said that after she gave Ashton all the details of that fateful day, it suddenly occurred to her that she, too, may have been the victim of this type of chemical exposure.
When Ashton followed up on Donna’s story with Lynn Chaffin, a field manager from the farm where Donna had been walking on the first or second of November 1989, he asked if Benlate had been used on the field crops on or about that date.
Chaffin said yes.
This would be a pivotal piece of evidence if there were to be a case going forward.
I suddenly understood why the Castillos were in my office that day.They wanted to go after DuPont.
In my next post, I will share my thoughts on deciding to take on a case of such enormity.
These blogs are drawn from my book, Blindsided, which I urge you to read for a full picture of this case and its aftermath.