Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Life Enhanced by Medical Science

"He was hiding in his apartment with heavy blankets over his window. He was afraid to look outside. The world didn't look like it was supposed to."
"It's a pretty amazing thing to do. To give someone sight after 60 years, then leave him on his own.  It was fascinating to watch him learn to see. He was on another planet."
Dave Brown, Columnist, December 26, 1996

"I prayed for years and years. God sent me a miracle. He knew it would take time for me to get used to it [having eyesight]. It's OK now. It's His Christmas present to me."
Donald "Red" Wellington, Ottawa

"He kind of latched on to me. He said he wanted to meet all the guys from the ball team."
"He'd tell me stories and I'd wonder, 'How did you do all this, Red [without eyesight]?" But I'd check them out and they'd be true [stories]."
"It was a miracle. It [lens implants] gave him back 15 years of enjoyment and getting around."
"[Up to then] he only knew me by my voice."
Mike Meehan, friend
Mike Meehan first met Red Wellington who had been legally blind from birth, at a charity event that took place on New Year's Day of 1986. It was a softball game played to raise funds for the Shepherds of Good Hope, an Ottawa non-profit organization whose singular mission is to give service and hope to those in need.

Donald “Red” Wellington went blind at the age of five and remained that way for 61 years 
until artificial lens implants regained his sight at the age of 66. JULIE OLIVER / OTTAWA CITIZEN
Donald "Red" Wellington, was born in 1929 to a family of five children. Back then his blindness was an impediment that ensured he could go no further than Grade 8. But he found employment doing odd jobs for people who saw the quality in the man and had trust in his ability and willingness to work for a living. He was also a fan of competitive sports.

The sight he was born with enabled him, if he held something inches from his face, to make out what they were; his own hands, for example. He was born with elongated eyeballs, able to see outlines without colour, let alone any detail. And in 1996 eye surgeon Dr. Steven Gilberg implanted plastic lenses for Mr. Wellington to enable him, after a lifetime of blindness, to finally see.

This was no ordinary type of plastic, it was a type called PMMA, material that had been used for windscreens of the Spitfire fighter plane. Pilots of those Spitfires during the Second World War sometimes had shards from the shattered windscreens embedded in their eyes, surprising doctors who could see how well eyes tolerated the presence of the plastic. And a brave new world of sight was born.

To celebrate his newfound eyesight, friends of Red Wellington threw a party. His surgery became news, and the media arrived at the party. They were informed that if they couldn't take photographs without camera flashes, they were off limits, since the powerful light affected his vision for days after exposure to those bright flashes.

It took him quite a while to become accustomed to sight. For one thing, blind from birth, his imagination supplied him with images of how places and people looked, based on what he felt in tactile touching and what he heard in voices speaking. He was surprised at how different familiar places and familiar faces looked, compared to how he had imagined them to be.

After a lifetime of visual darkness, the sudden exposure to a world of light, colour, movement, form and details, overwhelmed him. "My eyes are too powerful", he explained.

Mr. Wellington died at age 86, on November 9 at a seniors' residence he had moved to a few years earlier. His health had begun to deteriorate. His old friend Mr. Meehan, who continues his visits to seniors' homes to entertain residents, once had promised his friend Red that at Red's own memorial service he would sing the gospel song It's No Secret (What God Can Do.

And he did precisely that.

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