Giving the gift of sight

Published 11:07 am Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Helena resident Ethan Delcambre, 11, sat in an examination room at the UAB Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation Dec. 17, listening to a pep talk from ophthalmologist Dawn DeCarlo.

“You should never sit in your chair and not be able to see something and not do anything about it,” DeCarlo said.

Ethan suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a condition in which he has a blank spot in his vision. Ethan can see around the blank spot, but the condition affects his peripheral vision, which scares his mother, Mandy.

“You need your depth perception to see how fast things are coming at you,” Mandy said. “Stairs can be a problem. You’ve lost your 3D vision.”

He does what he has to in order to see, though. In class at Helena Middle School, if he needs to, he’ll get up from his desk and sit on the floor directly in front of the blackboard.

“I just don’t like help,” he said. “I like being independent and being able to do things myself.”

While Ethan cherishes his independence, Sight Savers America had some help for him. For the holidays, the organization, which has an office in Pelham, gave the gift of sight to 12 visually impaired children from across the Birmingham area, including two from Shelby County.

The organization donated whatever the kids needed to improve their vision, whether it was a low-tech pair of glasses or a high-tech closed-circuit television.

The televisions, which cost a minimum of $2,000, allow users to magnify objects through a camera attached to a monitor.

While the TVs wouldn’t be on most Christmas lists, they can represent a dream come true for children with low vision, said Linda Long, communications director for Sight Savers.

“(The kids) use it for things you don’t think about,” she said. “One girl, who was 13, the first thing she did was paint her fingernails. She’d never been able to see to do that before.”

Margie Hattox, who was in charge of the equipment, said Sight Savers understands the cost of the televisions is prohibitive for many families, even though they make a world of difference.

“That’s one of the big reasons we try to find these children. Most families can’t just afford to spend $2,000,” Hattox said. “One of the nicest things about the CCTV is that it gives the child a sense of independence. We had one child (who was overweight). It made him feel so good that he lost a bunch of weight and his grades went up.”

Ethan wasn’t quite ready for a CCTV, preferring instead to get new glasses and a handheld magnifier. His condition is progressive, though, so he might be back for a CCTV eventually.

“He does really well,” Mandy said. “We try to get him prepared for what can happen.”