At the age of 20 and while he was working to become a welder, Kevin Michael-Gagne’s world was plunged into darkness.
“I thought I had something in my right eye, so I rubbed it. Not thinking anything of it, I went to bed and I woke up the next morning and I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye,” he says.
The experience was overwhelming for the Alberta man.
“I started crying instantly — not knowing what’s going on or what’s happening.”
From there, it got even worse. Exactly six months later, the same thing happened with his left eye.
Specialists helped him understand what went wrong. Michael-Gagne has a rare, one-in-a-million disease called serpiginous choroiditis of the macula.
“The artery in the back of my eye burst and started bleeding, leaking into my eyeball. That caused pressure which crushed my retina,” Michael-Gagne explains.
But even they don’t know why the arteries burst.
“This disease unfortunately is idiopathic, which basically means at this point, we don’t know what causes it,” says his optometrist, Dr. Rajan Mistry.
Michael-Gagne lost 95 per cent of his vision. He has very limited peripheral vision and can only see things very close up. Everything else is black.
The sudden change left him stunned. He could only leave the house with his mom and his cane by his side.
“At first I was very depressed, not wanting to leave my room. [I] had the lights off all the time because any light hurts my eyes,” Michael Gagne explains.
“Since I went blind, I lost my apartment, I lost my girlfriend, lost my jeep, lost my dogs and had to move in with mom and dad again. It went from total independence to absolutely none at all.”
Two years later, he discovered eSight: special high-tech glasses that help him make the most of what little vision he has left.
“They’ve got two cameras mounted on the front, and those project images to two LCD displays in high resolutions, right in front of the eyes. From there, using a hand controller, the patient can basically magnify and modify the contrast on anything they’re looking at in real time,” Mistry says.
Watch below: On Oct. 22, 2013, Peter Kim filed this report about how high-tech glasses are helping the blind to see.
Michael-Gagne still remembers the first time he tried the eSight glasses on.
“I could see again! It was the happiest moment of my life thus far.”
Right away, he thought about how the glasses would change his life.
“I can go back to work, I can take public transit, I can walk unaided.”
Mistry says the technology came out in 2013, but has already gone through three revisions. The newest pair of glasses is lighter and easier to manoeuvre.
“Having someone who has lost all hope that they’re going to get their vision back, to have a device that’s going to restore their independence, and their autonomy, and allow them to function in the normal world — that’s something everyone deserves, and something a lot of us take for granted.”
The optometrist says it’s not just Michael-Gagne that is benefiting from the technology.
“I had a patient who saw her son for the very first time. I had a seven year old who had never been able to see before,” he says.
“It’s at those moments when you realize how life-changing a device like this can be.”
To benefit from eSight, Mistry says patients need to have an island of vision to improve upon. The glasses do not help people who have lost all functional vision.
But the technology is expensive — $10,000 USD — and it is not currently covered by insurance.
As the youngest of seven children, Michael-Gagne’s family can’t afford eSight right now, but he isn’t letting that deter him. He started a GoFundMe account to try and collect donations and he’s also hosting a pub night fundraiser on Saturday, March 24 at Caffrey’s in the Park.
Michael-Gagne also has a Facebook page set up detailing his progress as he fights to be able to see once more.
“Don’t take your eyesight for granted,” he says. “Being in this situation, I would give anything to have my eyes back.”
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