Community raises thousands to help officer

Hannah Grover
Farmington police Officer Kristopher Chavez poses for a portrait on Friday at the Farmington Police Department.

FARMINGTON — Community members banded together this week to help a Farmington Police Department school resource officer keep his vision.

The public raised more than $19,000 in two days to help Officer Kristopher Chavez pay for a noninvasive procedure to help his eyesight.

"I'm overwhelmed, and I'm very humbled by all the support of the community," Chavez said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, police spokeswoman Georgette Allen and Officer Lisa McGaha created a GoFundMe account to raise money for a procedure known as Holcomb C3-R Crosslinking.

By Thursday morning, they had already topped their initial goal of $18,000 for the procedure, which Chavez's insurance will not cover.

Chavez, 42, is losing his eyesight due to an eye condition known as keratoconus. He was diagnosed with the condition about 15 years ago at age 25.

The degenerative eye condition causes the cornea to thin and change shapes. Chavez described his cornea as being "cone-shaped, like a football." When he was diagnosed, he was given the option of either wearing contacts lenses or getting a corneal transplant. He opted for the lenses. At first, he was able to wear soft contacts, but, as the condition worsened, he had to switch to hard contacts.

"On Monday, (Chavez) told me that the contacts were starting to damage his eyes," McGaha said.

McGaha and Chavez attended the police academy together and have worked together as school resource officers. So when Chavez told McGaha about his worsening condition, she wanted to help. That led her to create the GoFundMe account, as well as the "Officer Kristopher Chavez Medical Fund" at Four Corners Community Bank. About $600 had been donated to the account as of Thursday afternoon, according to Allen.

Farmington police Officer Kristopher Chavez talks about his degenerative eye condition on Friday at the Farmington Police Department.

Holcomb C3-R Crosslinking may be able to save Chavez's eyesight and prevent the need for a corneal transplant. Chavez learned about the procedure in an online keratoconus support group and said he has since met three local people who have undergone the procedure. The procedure takes about 30 minutes and would prevent the keratoconus from progressing. Afterward, the doctor would install intacs, or inserts, under the cornea, to correct the shape. Chavez said that would allow him to wear glasses or soft contacts.

"When you're dealing with your eyes, you want the best," Chavez said.

He said he had heard stories about corneal transplants not working or making the condition worse. If he were to get a corneal transplant, he said doctors could only transplant the cornea on one eye at a time, which could potentially cost him two years of his career, making it so he could no longer work in law enforcement.

For someone who has wanted to be a police officer since he was a child, it's a major decision.

"I've always wanted to make a difference in my community," Chavez said.

While being a police officer was his goal, it wasn't until about 10 years ago that Chavez was able to achieve it. The Farmington native remained in the area after graduating high school to care for his mother who had cancer. Then, at age 32, he talked to his wife and decided to enter the police academy.

He started as a patrol officer, and accepted a position as a school resource officer about six years ago.

"I enjoy working with kids and making a difference in their lives," he said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.