Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Dancer awaits next cornea transplant

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Laurie DeWitt⁄The Gazette
Jose Macedo, 22, of Gaithersburg (far right) practices for a fundraiser with the troupe De Colores. The Latino Lions gala will raise money for Macedo’s second cornea transplant.
The stomp of eight pairs of heavy-heeled shoes comes in flurries of Mexican flair; step-overs, heel flicks, toe points, turning and sliding and pounding into the wooden dance floor.

Think Riverdance, south-of-the-border style.

Practicing for a gala Friday night, the women of the dance troupe De Colores held their hands at their hips; the men’s hands held in front, where their belts will be in the costumes they will wear.

They followed artistic director Alex Macedo’s steps and cadences with attention, all of it making quite a ruckus Saturday in the basement of troupe founder Rozio Jimenez’s Gaithersburg home.

Which for Macedo’s brother Jose Luis Macedo is especially vital. Keratoconus, a degenerative eye disorder where the cornea becomes too thin, rendered him legally blind. He had to learn the steps largely by ear.

‘‘I couldn’t see, just hearing. I got close to my brother when he was doing the steps, so I memorized them, and from that time, I had to listen,” he said.

He just recently learned that Friday’s performance at a gala hosted by the Montgomery County Latino Lions Club will be for him.

Macedo’s blurred vision started when he was 8. By the time he was 18, the hard contact lenses had proven not to fit, and doctors told him that transplant was the only option. About 20 to 25 percent of people with KC require a transplant, according to the National Keratoconus Foundation.

Macedo got a new right cornea in 2006. After waiting a year to see how the recovery panned out, his doctor gave the go-ahead to start planning the next surgery.

Macedo was scheduled today to find out when the surgery will be.

Just as in the earlier transplant, Dr. Alberto Martinez, a Bethesda-based opthamologist, will perform the surgery pro bono.

The Lions are expecting the anesthesiologist, use of the clinic and the cornea itself to cost about $3,000.

‘‘We are so thrilled,” said Grace Rivera-Oven, past president of the Latino Lions and co-chairwoman of Friday’s gala. ‘‘You have no idea how exciting it is to be part of a miracle.”

Most of the proceeds will go to pay for the costs associated with the surgery. A fundraiser for Macedo in 2006 raised close to $9,000, she said. De Colores also performed at that event.

Folk dance is taught in primary schools in Mexico, and De Colores is about bringing that tradition here

Mexico’s 32 states, each with several distinctive dances.

‘‘It’s also something more than just a group,” said Luis Bermudez.

‘‘Everybody is working, but it’s not about the money — only enjoying it, and together we make a family,” said his wife Rozio Jimenez, who founded De Colores more than 10 years ago with a mission to preserve and celebrate the tradition of Mexican folk dancing.

Macedo said dancing with De Colores has carried him through life’s twists and turns.

‘‘It means a lot. I never had an idea, I know I had people that love me, but I never had an idea how much love that was,” he said. ‘‘You feel totally great that everywhere you go there is someone always, that I am not alone.”

See it live on stage

The county’s Latino Lions Club is expecting more than 120 people at a gala Friday night at the Gaithersburg Hilton.

The $45 tickets are still available for the event, which will run from 6 to 11:30 p.m. Call Grace Rivera-Oven at 240-632-1236.