Bullied Girl May Face Permanent Blindness, Parents Say

PHOTO: Gwendolyn Quarles, 11-years-old, of Austin, Texas. Patrick and Erin Quarles
Gwendolyn Quarles, 11-years-old, of Austin, Texas.

Gwendolyn Quarles has a brain disorder that appeared soon after another child lobbed a football at her face in October of last year, her parents said. Her father, Patrick Quarles, said the incident was no accident.

"On the day of the injury, Gwendolyn was in gym class and the coaches left the children alone," Quarles, a 43-year-old sales representative for an electrical supply company, told ABC News. "There seems to have been an argument and then she remembers a ball flying at her."

After complaining of a floating feeling, the 11-year-old was sent to the nurse, her father said. Later in the day her parents took her to the emergency room near her home in Austin, Texas, where she was diagnosed with intracranial hypertension, a rare disorder where pressure inside the skull chokes off the optic nerve from the brain.

The family had notified the school numerous times about previous incidents in which Gwendolyn was pushed around, her father said.

The girl's mother, Erin Quarles, said that doctors have told the family that they cannot definitively confirm that the disorder is a result of the injury, but according to the Intracranial Hypertension Foundation, the condition is usually the result of a severe head injury.

The school where the incident occurred is The Founder's Classic Academy, part of the Responsive Education Solutions, a charter school system in Texas. Mary Ann Duncan, vice president of school operations for RES, said they wished the child a speedy recovery but would neither confirm nor deny the incident occurred.

"We are not allowed to speak about confidential student information but the school's policy is to investigate and notify parents promptly of any accident or bullying," Duncan said.

It's unclear whether Quarles will completely recover from the injury, said her parents, who fear she may go blind even if she undergoes risky and expensive surgery. Besides problems with her eyesight, her father said she was also experiencing other difficulties.

"She sometimes has trouble understanding me and sometimes she will trip over things. It comes and goes," he said, though her mother said her daughter's symptoms have improved in the last several days.

PHOTO: Gwendolyn Quarles, aged 11, of Austin, Texas.Courtesy Patrick Quarles
Gwendolyn Quarles, aged 11, of Austin, Texas.

Gwendolyn is at the prime age for being bullied, according to government statistics. About a third of children report being threatened at school, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the likelihood of bullying peaks in the middle school years when kids are age 10 to 14.

"Kids who are bullied have higher rates of anxiety and depression and lower self-esteem," said Dr. Joe Shrand, the medical director of CASTLE, an adolescent addiction treatment center in Brockton, Massachusetts.

Though only a small percentage of bullying turns physical, Shrand said kids who are bullied have a higher risk of physical ailments such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and suicide throughout their lifetime. Sometimes kids who are bullied turn the tables and become "victim bullies" perpetuating the cycle, he added.

Quarles said his family has racked up substantial medical bills as a result of his daughter's condition, only some of which has been covered by insurance. The family has started a GoFundMe.com campaign to help cover the out-of-pocket costs, which Quarles said are piling up quickly.

The Quarles said they sent at least 23 emails to the school, warning them that she was being pushed around by a group of other girls and that they feared the situation might escalate into something physical, Patrick Quarles said. The school did make attempts to remedy the situation, the parents said, but they wish everyone -- themselves included -- had done more.

PHOTO: Gwendolyn Quarles, 11-years-old, of Austin, Texas. Patrick and Erin Quarles
Gwendolyn Quarles, 11-years-old, of Austin, Texas.

And when something actually happened, he said he and his wife were in shock.

"You think, 'What’s the worst that can happen?' But you never think this," Quarles said.

Since no adult was present when it happened, it's impossible to get the entire story, Quarles said, added that the family does not plan to sue.