By Chad Nelson
In 1971, I was born legally blind with glaucoma, but over the years, I never let it slow me down, and even now, with the rest of my useful vision gone, I still try to live life and remember what things looked like.
When I was a young boy, I enjoyed most everything everyone else liked to do, including riding a bike, and when I was a teenager, I even drove an ATV around our 200-acre farm. I remember my parents always telling people that I was legally blind, and my response was always, “I’m not blind, I can see!” Not being able to see 20/20, I never knew the difference between my vision and someone who had “normal vision.” My brother calls it “shadow vision.” When I think about his description, it makes sense. While I had some useful vision, it was not even close to perfect and a lot of what I saw were light and shadows with very limited details.
For people with a visual disability and especially those who have gradually lost what vision they have, one doesn’t notice the loss because it happens so gradually. I remember when I lived in Wausau, I rode a 21-speed mountain bike through the city streets. I didn’t have too many problems, except for the occasional running over a curb and flying over the handle bars because I didn’t notice the contrast between the sidewalk and street. I just thought I didn’t see it, or wasn’t paying attention; now I realize my vision was diminishing, but I was either in denial, or more likely didn’t notice the decrease.
Through the years however, I did become aware that my vision was deteriorating because I was unable to read regular print using a magnifier, and eventually was unable to read large print. In addition to this, I noticed that my surroundings were becoming blurrier and indistinct. I tried to correct this with two corneal transplants, which were mildly successful. In 2005 I had a partial transplant that lasted until 2011. This corrected my vision so I had a bit more clarity for distance, such as being able to see individual windows on the outside of my apartment building, and could see cars further away as I crossed the street. I also noticed a gradual increase in my night vision.
In 2012 I went through a second procedure that held more promise to partially restore my vision without developing calcium deposits over the cornea, which was part of the cause of my diminished vision in the past, along with glaucoma complications. The second transplant was called a Boston keratoprosthesis. This procedure involves a new donor cornea inserted into a plastic button-type cornea. This is inserted into the eye. This particular procedure was considerably less successful than the first transplant. Scar tissue built up behind the graft and eventually it pulled on my retina, and detached it, resulting in total vision loss.
This was depressing because I wasn’t expecting it to happen. I decided I had two choices: to either quit my job, stay home and withdraw from life or press on, keep working the best I could and trust in God to bring me through.
Three years later, I am still working in my same job. I have somewhat adapted to blindness, although I still hate it, but have come to terms with it. I can’t do anything about it, so why focus on it? And, I am also with someone who is very supportive and understanding.
There may be some hope at the end of the tunnel. I recently read an article about a group of researchers who are working on a complete eye transplant. While this may still be years in the making and may never happen, the thought is comforting that I may be able to see again.