SPRINGFIELD >> Imagine being legally blind and suddenly getting the gift of sight back into your life. That’s exactly what has happened to Morton resident Ed Allen, a faculty member at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield.
Allen has been legally blind since age 15, when he lost his vision from Stargardt’s disease. Stargardt’s is a genetic retina disorder that takes away central vision, leaving only peripheral vision. Currently, there is no cure, and the condition often grows progressively worse over time.
To see anything, even slightly, Allen is forced to put things right up to his face. He recognizes his students and others by their voices. He is unable to drive and needs extreme magnification to read and a hand-held telescope to see in the distance. Allen uses text-to-speech on his Mac and iPhone to communicate in ways that most people take for granted. Through the years, he adapted behaviors and methods to compensate for his lack of vision and eventually came to peace with the idea that he would probably never see normally again.
As an inspiration to many, Allen didn’t allow his handicap to be a stumbling block to anything he wished to accomplish. He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and went on to achieve a successful career as both a teacher and an administrator. Allen is also a gifted musician and vocalist and has self-taught himself on guitar, keyboard and vocals. He has fronted several bands over the years and has directed dozens of high school musicals.
This year, on March 31, Allen’s life took an incredible, unexpected twist when he tried on eSight3 glasses for the very first time. His fiancée Marisa, along with his daughters, Holly and Joey, and his mother, Ruth O’Connor Gauzza, met Allen at the Homewood Suites in Philadelphia where an eSight customer representative of the Canadian-based company was waiting for Allen to try on a pair of the innovative glasses. After first reading about the device on Twitter, Allen had tracked down the eSight company after a lot of research and exploring on the internet. He was delighted to find out they periodically came to major cities, like Philadelphia, to meet with prospective customers.
The company introduced its technologically advanced product that replicates sight about five years ago to help people with low vision or legal blindness. After many years of research and development, eSight3 is lighter, more streamlined and smaller than the original model. Its batteries last for six full hours.
“The wave of emotions that came over me was indescribable,” explained Allen. “I tried on eSight glasses, and I could see again! It was stunning. I could read with 20/20 vision, and most importantly, I could see my mom and my beautiful daughters and my wonderful fiancée for the first time in my life. I couldn’t stop staring at them. I was in tears. Imagine seeing your family for the first time. It was beyond special.”
Allen said it was downright strange and surreal for him to walk through the hotel lobby and see in a way that he hadn’t been able to see in decades.
“I truly think that my brain wasn’t ready. It was an overwhelming experience,” he said.
The eSight3 device, a hands-free engineering breakthrough that resembles virtual reality goggles, houses a high-speed, high-definition camera that captures everything at which the user is looking. The eSight’s algorithms enhance the video feed and display it on two OLED screens in front of the user’s eyes. Full color video images are clearly seen by the eSight user with unprecedented visual clarity and virtually no lag. With eSight’s patented Bioptic Tilt capability, users can adjust the device to the precise position that, for them, presents the best view of the video while maximizing side peripheral vision. This ensures a user’s balance and prevents nausea, which is a common problem with other immersive technologies. The eSight3 product, which has a pivoted visor, is smaller and more compact than its predecessors and its cost is about $5,000 less than the eSight2. The device is capable of enhancing the sight of people with a variety of vision and eye issues.
By the time Allen left the hotel and completed the no-cost demo, he knew he was on his way to entering a whole new world. His goal was set on obtaining the eSight device because he realized the huge impact it could have on his life.
“I’m still young,” the 57-year-old Allen said. “I have a lot of life to live still, with grandchildren to watch grow up and many more students to teach. Music has always been my salvation, and I want to be able to see the sheet music and not just play off of memory. I want to be able to watch the Phillies play baseball, see my sweet granddaughter Rae, travel and take in what the beautiful world has to offer. I simply want to live my life the way that I should.”
The major stumbling block to owning an eSight3 device was the hefty price tag of $10,000, which insurance does not cover. Allen said the device is worth every penny because the result of seeing with them would be priceless. He immediately went about setting up a capital campaign to raise enough money to buy the product. Donations from students, alumni, co-workers, friends, family and acquaintances began pouring in to support the longtime teacher. Allen has been at Cardinal O’Hara High School for 25 years as a mathematics and music teacher, assistant principal, from 1995 to 2013 and currently as the Apple technology specialist to support teachers and students in a new one-to-one Mac Book program introduced in the 2016-17 school year. Previous to his O’Hara career, Allen taught at Monsignor Bonner, St. Maria Goretti and Little Flower high schools.
On April 28, still $5,000 short of reaching his goal, Allen was contacted by a Delaware County company that donated the money needed to reach the $10,000 price for purchasing the eSight 3 device. The local company that donated 47 percent of the total cost wishes to remain anonymous.
“The eSight’s mission is ‘Everyone Deserves To See,’ and they truly follow that mission,” Allen stated. “They have been very helpful to me, but I could not have done any of this without the support and encouragement of my students, friends and family. All of the compassion and generosity shown by so many who reached out to help me achieve this dream has encouraged me to pay it forward. I have used technology for most of my life so this is a true blessing from God. I have been blessed in so many ways. When I was young, my family encouraged me to believe in what I could do, not what I couldn’t. I have had so many rides and so much help from kind friends and families. Life is good. But now it is about to get even better!”
Allen’s eSight3 glasses are expected to arrive on Friday, June 2, right before summer begins. After that, the software will periodically receive updates and Allen will be provided with phone and website support with an eSight ambassador through Skype and other means during his usage of the product.
“I am very excited to go to Wildwood this summer and see the boardwalk and the ocean. I can’t wait to go to Disney World and so many other places to see them like I’ve never seen them before,” Allen shared. “In September, when we come back to O’Hara, I will be able to see my students for the very first time. This will all be so amazing!”
For more information about eSight and to watch videos of people, including Allen, seeing for the very first time, visit esighteyewear.com.