A teenager born with microcephaly potentially caused by the Zika virus is dedicating his life to helping children with the same condition.
Daryle Koltay, 19, and his mum Lisa, 48, raise money to send vital supplies to women and children in South America who are suffering from the condition.
The reason for Daryle’s microcephaly remains a mystery but Lisa believes that Zika could have played a part – despite the fact that she never left her native Florida while pregnant.
Daryle has a mental age of seven and cannot express emotions but Lisa insists he is living a fulfilling life by trying to help the thousands of babies affected by microcephaly in Brazil.
‘We make boxes of essentials to send to kids as they need them,’ says Daryle. ‘Growing up with microcephaly is hard and it doesn’t get better when you get older, it gets worse and worse.’
Lisa adds: ‘We are looking for sponsorship so he can send more diapers, baby wipes, bug repellant and anything else which can help expectant mothers combat Zika.
‘He has ambitions just like anybody else and wants a purpose in life – I believe this is his purpose.’
The latest outbreak of Zika virus began in Brazil in April 2015 and it has since been linked to a huge rise in the number of babies being born with microcephaly.
Lisa, whose two other children were born without medical problems, believes it may have caused Daryle’s condition.
‘My pregnancy was full term and felt normal but I got bitten by mosquitos a number of times.
‘I did develop a rash on top of my feet and I felt ill. There are suspicions that it was Zika virus but it’s still a complete mystery what caused this condition in Daryle.
‘I only knew something was wrong when the paediatrician told me about microcephaly – they said he could possibly become blind, deaf and potentially paralysed.
‘I was devastated – I didn’t know what to think or say.’
Lisa, who cuts her son’s hair in a specific shape to make his head look bigger, adds: ‘I give him a mushroom haircut to add volume to his head so that people don’t stare at him all the time.
‘The hardest part is trying to educate people and get them to realise that they shouldn’t make fun of him.’
Daryle had a head circumference of just 12in when he was born in 1997 but Lisa refused plastic surgery to widen his skull.
‘I just couldn’t stop crying but I knew this was how he was supposed to be,’ she says.
‘I was told to watch out for things like vomiting, passing out, seizures and to make sure his brain was not growing and putting pressure on his skull.’
Daryle, who graduated high school in May 2015 with a special diploma, cannot read or write and often has trouble expressing himself and displaying emotion.
He cannot dress himself and struggles with balance and disorientation daily, requiring 24-hour care from his mother.
However, he is now hoping to pack and send supplies of nappies, vitamins and medication to needy babies in Zika-hit communities like Recife, north-east Brazil.
‘He’s a true fighter and a tough cookie,’ says mum Lisa. ‘I’m extremely proud of him – he has come a long way.
‘My advice to the mothers over in Brazil is to develop a support system as it’s so important.
‘There’ll be days when you’re tired and you just say to yourself, “How am I going to get through this?”
‘But a lot can be achieved and even if you have days like this you should never give up on your child.’
The World Health Organisation has declared Zika virus a public health emergency.
Pregnant women and those who are planning to become pregnant have been advised to postpone all non-essential travel to affected countries.