Joshua Harmsen needs an eye patch to save the vision in one eye, but five years ago the 2-year-old wouldn’t wear it for more than 30 seconds.
That is, until he saw a cartoon pirate on television. Joshua went running to the kitchen drawer for the patch he had torn off just minutes before.
The pirate, it turns out, inspired both Joshua and his mom, Kelly Harmsen of Bradenton. She realized she could make a show of her own to encourage Joshua to wear the patch.
Joshua has amblyopia, or lazy eye, which occurs when the brain and one eye don’t work together properly. Although the affected eye may appear normal, the brain favors the other eye.
Covering the good eye with a patch is one method of treating the condition. It forces the weaker eye to work harder.
A camcorder, a few sock puppets and a couple of silly songs were all Kelly Harmsen needed to get Joshua into the routine of putting on his patch every day. Even with no storyline, the puppet singing, “Wear your eye patch,” got Joshua to comply.
Harmsen eventually realized her puppets could help other children.
“I started researching it further, and I realized there were so many other kids out there that didn’t want to wear it either,” she says, noting online forums filled with parents begging advice from one another.
Harmsen, a hairdresser at the time, started putting together “The Eye Patch Kids” DVD. She wrote a script, hired a professional camera crew and created her own business, Bjort and Co., named so simply because it sounded fun.
She drew inspiration from famous puppets such as Miss Piggy and knowledge from watching children’s shows with her son.
Her sister helped with the script, and her husband, Allen, a manager for Verizon in Tampa, funded the $10,000 project. A friend provided the voice of the main character, Princess. Her boss, a musician, collaborated on the songs.
Now with more than 1,500 copies of the DVD sold, other parents are thanking her.
Logo from Bjort and Company.