EASLEY — If asked where you were on 9/11, you could probably recall the events clearly. For Gail Black of Easley, March 13, 2010, is one of those days.
Black was running errands around Pickens County when she began to notice difficulty with her sight. It turns out she was suffering from Diabetic Retinopathy, where the blood vessels in the eyes leak, and as is the case here, cause critical damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision.
“I could see all day the blood piling up in my eye and had no idea what was going on. In a matter of six hours I was blind,” Black says of that fateful, life-changing day. “I had always been an independent person but when I lost my sight, I lost my independence.”
Black, 66 and a resident of Pickens County for 55 years, had always worn glasses with corrective lenses, but had never had vision issues such as this, going to 20/300 and unable to make out faces, small items, see scenery, or, saddest of all, the eyes of her grandchildren.
But thanks to a technological advance by a company in Chapel Hill, N.C., Black has found a new lease on life.
For two weeks now Black has been using the Ocutech Sport, a futuristic looking piece of equipment that attaches to the frames of glasses, and she is ready to go back to the life she enjoyed before that March day five years ago.
“My vision was blurred, I couldn’t see anything at any distance at all and I couldn’t distinguish faces. I could still read, a little, but I couldn’t do that without a great deal of help,” Black said. “The Commission of the Blind in Greenville was a great help. They provided me with magnifiers to read, though it was still a struggle. You don’t know how hard things can be until you can’t see anymore.”
Black endured four surgeries to repair the retina on both eyes, with partial success on her right, performed by Dr. Greg Christenson as well as a cataract surgery performed by Dr. Ann Parker. But the results were still far from normal.
That’s when Mission Low Vision Center of Asheville, N.C., entered the picture and changed Black’s life forever, going through several sessions and several devices before discovering the Ocutech device was the answer.
Part of the affliction suffered by Black is the loss of center vision, the ability of the eye to see from its center point in the retina, which will never heal.
The vision aid uses telescopic and periscopic technology to grab the image and reroute it to the portion of the eye still capable of vision, making it possible for Black to do what she never thought would be possible again — see clearly.
“Before my life was very different. I would be in a store and someone would speak to me and I wouldn’t know who they were,” she said. “Now I can see faces, scenery, objects at a distance and I can see where I am, I can see and acknowledge instead of having to guess.”
Now that Black has been fitted with the Ocutech Sport, most of the things she had lost from her everyday life are returning, and she couldn’t be happier.
“It feels absolutely amazing! It felt like an absolute miracle because it was miraculous I could see clearly,” she says of the day she first used the Ocutech. “Just to be able to see scenery, the highway, the signs, and know where I was that day driving back from Asheville was a miracle to me. I can see again and to know who I am talking to is absolutely wonderful.”
The transition has been somewhat difficult, with Black having to slowly walk again to adjust to depth perception and a yearning to go full speed ahead. But doctors are doing what they can to slow Black down, though she has time to make up for and things she wants to do.
“I used to make jewelry and I am going to get back to doing that. To be able to see the tiny beads, be able to thread them, see the color of them again, that makes me excited,” Black said. “Being able to see again has brought back the color of small things which you don’t miss until you can’t see them. I might even be able to dress myself properly now and won’t be wearing one black sock and one blue from now on.”
Black’s sense of humor did not suffer. She was adamant within minutes of trying the Ocutech she was ready to drive, though her doctors are asking her to be cautious.
“Having always been independent, I wanted to drive that day, but they told me I needed to go slow and be patient,” she said with a chuckle. “I know I’m not ready for that, but the time will come.”
And it will. So be aware Pickens County — Gail Black is back in business.
Reach D. C. Moody at 864-855-0355.