BERLIN — A beautiful sunset over the bay, a wild horse roaming on Assateague or a crowded beach on a perfect summer day are all images many take for granted, but for one local teen legally blind since birth, they are merely blurred visions left largely to his imagination.
Caleb Conner, a 15-year-old sophomore at Stephen Decatur High School, was born to parents Robert and Sheri Conner at 25 weeks and weighed just one pound, 13 ounces. He spent the first 14 weeks of his life in the NICU, battling and overcoming many life-threatening setbacks, but the one obstacle he could not overcome robbed him of his sight.
Caleb suffers from retinopathy of prematurity, which has left him completely blind in his right eye and severely near-sighted in his left eye. With just vision in only one eye, Caleb has limited peripheral vision and no depth perception. His corrected vision is 20/200 and the prescription for his contact is -25. His field of vision is approximately five feet and beyond that small distance is a blurry world that Caleb is missing out on.
For 15 years, Caleb has overcome the obstacle that would have limited the quality of life for most, but instead he is vibrant, remarkable young man that has heretofore made the most of his life with his visual impairment. However, a recent breakthrough in technology has offered Caleb a chance at a better life. eSight eyeglasses are essentially electric glasses that enable the legally blind to see.
While they have gained popularity out west where the company launched their product, they are just now reaching the east coast. Caleb and his parents recently traveled to Philadelphia to test the eSight glasses and the results were remarkable. With the electronic glasses, for the first time in his young life, Caleb was able to see details on a car across the hotel parking lot, read the exit sign on the other side of the hotel lobby and actually order a caramel macchiato from a menu board and even commented on its calorie count.
“He didn’t want to get his hopes up prior to the demonstration, but he was rendered speechless by the results,” said his mom, Sheri Conner. “We were moved to tears. It was truly remarkable what the incredible engineers at eSight were able to create.”
The eSight glasses offer Caleb a chance at an enhanced life, but they come with a stiff price tag. The glasses cost $16,500 and are not covered by insurance. To that end, the family has launched a Go Fund Me campaign in an effort to raise money to purchase the special electronic eyeglasses. By Monday morning, the typically generous community had already embraced the fundraising effort, with over $7,800, or nearly half of the goal reached, but there is still much to accomplish.
“Those of you that know [her husband] Rob and I know that we are constantly on the lookout for anything that may help Caleb,” wrote Sheri Conner on the Go Fund Me page. “It is a very humbling experience when you find that thing you have been looking for and it is just out of your reach. Please help us Caleb the gift of sight.”
For Caleb, the visual impairment is just a minor setback that doesn’t prevent him from leading a life similar to and better than even then most kids his age. He is a phenomenal student that loves computer science and biology. Just this past weekend, he competed in the Maryland Science Olympiad hosted by Johns Hopkins University and earned a silver medal in trajectory. He is also an accomplished athlete who runs cross country and pole vaults for his high school track team. He is also an avid reader and gamer.
“Caleb does not believe that there is anything wrong with him,” said Sheri. “Only as he has gotten older has he realized he is different than most kids his age. He is also fearless. We’ll go to the skate park and he’ll drop in to the bowl. That is scary for many kids but they know there is a bottom. For Caleb, he might as well be dropping into a bottomless abyss.”
The eSight company has developed an opportunity for Caleb and many others to improve the quality of their lives. The small company of just 18 employees is branching out and heading east to expose their amazing product to those like Caleb who can benefit the most from the electronic eyeglasses. The glasses combine a camera, display technology and advanced computing to deliver a real-time video that enables sight for people with vision loss. Users have complete control over the image they see, which means they can enhance, magnify and adjust the image to ensure their eyes can best interpret their world.
At the test in Philadelphia, Caleb was given a demonstration by eSight ambassadors, one of whom also has retinopathy of prematurity. The ambassador was able to demonstrate the eSight glasses for Caleb and give him a personal insight on how they have changed his life for the better.
Already, the product has been featured on the NBC Nightly News and the Ellen show and its popularity is growing, but there is still a waiting list. Even if the Conners had the $16,500 needed to purchase the eyeglasses this week, it would still take three to four weeks for Caleb to actually get the product, which makes the Go Fund Me campaign even more expedient.
Caleb’s campaign can be found at http://www.gofundme.com/r35n9hw