Nearly four years ago, Danielle Crull rescued a stray kitten from a forest in Pennsylvania.
Now, that spunky kitty is changing hundreds of lives by helping children with eye problems feel more confident about wearing glasses and eye patches.
Truffles, now famous for her glamorous glasses – which range from sparkling purple ones to her favorite green pair – works alongside her mom, an optician.
Crull runs her own practice, A Child’s Eyes, in Mechanicsburg, where her primary focus is infants, toddlers and children in elementary school.
When kids come in – many with severe eye problems that require multiple surgeries, medications and treatments – they are often terrified of anything coming near their eyes.
That’s when Truffles comes to the rescue.
“She is literally magical with little kids,” Crull told CNN. “It takes me at least half an hour to try and get to know them so they realize I’m not something to be afraid of, and Truffles will come strutting out from the back as if she knows exactly when I need her help.”
Truffles hops right up next to the child and tilts her head up so Crull can put on a pair of glasses. The mood changes instantly, says Crull. Tears turn into smiles, and suddenly those glasses don’t look so scary anymore.
“The story that happens over and over is a little one is crying and she comes out and I put glasses on her, and they immediately stop crying and laugh and put their own glasses on,” Crull said. “It happens countless times, and it’s just as sweet every single time.”
Wearing glasses is one of Truffles’ favorite things to do. She often falls asleep wearing them and refuses to let Crull take them off. Every day, according to Crull, Truffles chooses one of her nearly 20 pairs of unique glasses and prances around in them happily.
“If she had thumbs she would do it herself, she actually loves it,” Crull said. “She can take them off whenever she wants, but a lot of times she chooses not to.”
Making a difference
For many people Truffles might seem like nothing more than an adorable kitty who doesn’t mind the occasional accessory. But she is everything to the children and parents whose lives she has impacted.
One of those kids is Joella Migliori, a 5-year-old born with three genetic abnormalities, including iris atrophy, when someone is born missing layers of their iris, resulting in changes in vision.
Joella went through 15 surgeries before she was 6 months old.
When she was 1, she visited Crull’s office and met Truffles, who became one of her best friends and biggest supporters.
“You know the videos of children having hearing aids for the first time? That’s the experience Danielle and Truffles gave us, when Joella was able to really see for the first time,” Janette Migliori, Joella’s mom, told CNN. “The first thing she saw was the kitty, and it just changed everything for her.”
For four years, Joella has visited Truffles regularly, whenever she needs new glasses or adjustments. Every time, Truffles comes out in her glasses to play with her.
“It was never scary for her to go in there because Truffles would be there,” Migliori said. “Joella has multiple ‘ouchie’ appointments is what we call them now, and she doesn’t ever want to go, but visiting Truffles is the one single appointment we can go to where she doesn’t have anxiety.”
But that’s not the only way Truffles has helped Joella. The sweet feline has “launched” a fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network, which helps fund treatment for millions of children across the country.
One of those hospitals is Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, where Joella was born fighting for her life.
“They’re like family at this point,” Migliori said. “They are fundraising for their community, and that’s really special because they didn’t have to do that. They don’t just do their job, they care about their community, and this means a lot to parents like me.”
Raising awareness about amblyopia
Amblyopia – also known as lazy eye – is a childhood disorder where nerve pathways between the brain and an eye aren’t properly stimulated, so the brain favors one eye. The best way to treat it is temporarily wearing an eye patch over the strong eye to help strengthen the weak eye.
“Wearing an eye patch isn’t easy for kids,” Crull said. “One thing is glasses, but eye patches are a whole different thing. It’s more worry, more fear, more confusion.”
Having the confidence to wear an eye patch is not an easy challenge for children. But Truffles is committed to making sure kids feel confident enough to wear them.
To do so, Truffles wears her own eye patch over one of her many pairs of glasses. Since doing so, hundreds of parents of children with amblyopia have reached out to Truffles on Instagram with emotional words of gratitude.
One of those children is Annie, a young girl who regularly messages Truffles to talk to her about what she feels when she has to wear an eye patch.
“Truffles wearing a patch is a very big deal. She makes kids feel more confident about wearing their patches, and that’s something I am very passionate about,” Crull said. “This makes a real impact in these kids lives every day.”