Being able to see, and see clearly, is something many people take for granted. It’s not something they give two thoughts about when waking up in the morning.
For Jeannine Miller and her daughter, Kristy Miller Simmons, vision has been a struggle since childhood, and since birth for Simmons. The two have a hereditary eye condition called optic nerve atrophy, which severely impairs their vision. Neither are allowed to drive.
A recent discovery online by Miller’s son has brought the world into focus for both mother and daughter, who were in awe the first time they tried out eSight’s electronic glasses.
“We are so excited about those glasses,” said Miller, who demonstrated how they work. “They came the first of the week.
“We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before,” she said.
The glasses are like electronic binoculars, and will magnify up to 24 times, Miller said.
“We’ve tried so many things and nothing worked,” she said of other vision assistants. “When I looked in there and seen what I could see, it is amazing.”
Optic nerve atrophy is a condition Miller’s father and grandfather had, but not everyone has it. Her son doesn’t have it, and none of her grandchildren were born with it.
“Mine wasn’t as bad as a child, Kristy’s was really bad,” Miller explained. “If we were outside and her dad got home and out of the car and made no sound, she wouldn’t respond. Once he said something, she’d light up.”
But Simmons didn’t let her vision complications hinder her success in school. “She is an amazing young lady. She went through college and got a teaching degree. I’m just so proud of her. It would have been easy for her to say, ‘I can’t do it.’”
In addition to academics, Simmons cheered and was a member of the swim team.
“You adapt and do things differently. The kids could only pick one activity a semester, because I don’t drive and Kristy doesn’t drive,” Miller said. “Driving is an activity people take for granted. We had great friends and neighbors who help get us around.”
Between Simmons’ first and second grade years, she and her mother went for two weeks to the Governor Morehead School in Raleigh. Miller said the principal told her that Simmons was so well adapted, people couldn’t believe she had visual impairments.
“I’m hoping the kids will see at school that if they have a disability, you find what works for you and you move on,” Miller said. “I read something that said, ‘A handicap is only a handicap if you allow it to be.’”
So through school, Simmons read with large print books, and utilized books on tape from the library for the blind. “We have a closed circuit TV that has been a big help,” Miller said. The TV is like a computerized magnifying glass that you can set papers under and it displays the wording much larger.
The optic nerve, she explained, is like a giant fiber optic cable with lots of little cables inside, but for Miller and Simmons only a certain number of the little cables work, limiting their vision.
Simmons already has begun using her new glasses in the classroom when teaching. “She said the kids were so excited the first day she had them in class,” said Miller, who has worked as a substitute teacher in the school system for many years.
Without the glasses, Miller said when she looks at a tree, all she sees is a green mass. With the new glasses, she can see the individual leaves on the tree.
Simmons said one of her favorite things to see has been watching her kids play with the dog in the yard. “I actually got to zoom in and see their expressions,” she said.
The cost of clear vision doesn’t come cheap though, and insurance doesn’t help with the $10,000 per set price. The company did discount each pair $1,000 since they were ordering two, and so far the family has raised $8,100 toward the $18,000 cost for two sets via an eSight page similar to Go Fund Me, http://giving.esighteyewear.com/mother-and-daughter.
Simmons’ husband, Brad, is selling raffle tickets toward a rifle drawing. Tickets can be purchased from him at North Elkin Tire.
Also, Jonesville Pentecostal Holiness Church, 258 W. Main St., Jonesville, is hosting a benefit concert Friday at 7 p.m. featuring Elkin native Brett Pardue and his fiancée, Allison Gross, who both are accomplished opera singers who have performed internationally.
Pardue has recently been named associate minister of music at North Raleigh United Methodist Church, where Gross and her family are long-time members. He previously served on the voice faculty of Lehigh University as the Sametz Artist-in-Residence from 2016-18.
As a performer, Pardue has been featured in solo performances at venues including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Cincinnati Opera and in Italy, Canada, Bulgaria, and as an ambassador in Japan for Project Hand-in-Hand.
Gross has been on the faculty of Rowan University and Oberlin in Italy and has performed in Italy, Spain, Austria and Slovenia.
Admission to the concert is free, but donations toward the purchase of the eSight glasses will be accepted.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.