The story took off like wildfire on Del Mar College’s Facebook page: Jessica Lybarger, 19, is studying mechanical engineering in hopes of one day building a pair of robotic eyes that enable her blind mother to see.
Within days, the post went viral, and two local TV stations were on campus producing reports that would be picked up in cities as far away as Portland, Ore.
Jessica, smiling and soft-spoken, is taking it all in stride.
“The attention kind of freaked me out a little bit,” the Rockport native said. “This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was 13. All the people I grew up with have known I want to do this.”
Jessica’s mother, Donica Lybarger, has been blind in both eyes for the past seven years due to diabetic retinopathy, a disease that causes the retina to detach from the iris. She has had more than 100 surgeries to repair her eyes, but all were unsuccessful, Jessica said.
It has been Jessica’s mission ever since to earn a degree in biomedical engineering and learn to build robotic eyes for her mother and others with the same condition. She plans to transfer this summer from Del Mar to Texas A&M University-Kingsville, and then pursue a master’s degree.
“When I first told her what I wanted to do she was overjoyed,” Jessica said of her mother in the social media post. “I just want her to enjoy all the memories with us as a family. My mom has missed out on seeing my brother get married, and soon I will get married too.”
Jessica’s idea is to build a marble eye that fits into the eye socket and sends images to the brain, much like a live video feed, she says, adding that a pair of glasses already exists that accomplish the same goal.
Within a few days of being posted on March 1, the story set records on Del Mar’s Facebook page as far as number of likes and reactions (600), shares (150) and comments (94). And while a couple thousand “people reached” is considered good, the post has reached over 24, 200 people
as of March 7.
The comments, some from Jessica’s family and friends, many from strangers, urge her on with well wishes and encouragement.
Meagan Falcon, a digital media and journalism major at Del Mar, brought Jessica’s story to light as part of a weekly social media series she created called Viking Proud Wednesday (#vikingproudwednesday). She believes the story has ingredients that appeal to a wide audience.
“A lot of people teared up because a daughter is dedicating her life to helping her mother who lost her sight due to a disease,” said Meagan, 21. “I also think it hit home because diabetes is so prevalent here in South Texas. I know people who have lost limbs due to diabetes and I have family members who have diabetes.”
Jessica has a drive to succeed that is obvious in the classroom, said Christina Martinez, her calculus instructor at Del Mar.
“I tutored her in trigonometry last summer, and no matter how many classes she has, she’s not going to give up. Her focus and determination will get her where she wants to go. If there is an obstacle, she’ll find her way around it.”
“I feel like if you have the drive and determination, you can achieve anything,” Jessica said. “My parents told me my whole life that if you have a negative attitude, you’re going to do poorly at something.”
To see Jessica’s profile on Del Mar’s Facebook page, go to www.facebook.com/delmarcollege/ and scroll to the post on March 1.
IN THE PHOTO: Jessica Lybarger, a Del Mar College Mechanical Engineering major, has set her mission to build robotic eyes to help her mother see again after completing her studies at the College and then moving on to study Biomedical Engineering.