LUMBERTON — Miracle Villanueva, who is 6 years old and blind, saw her mother for the first time on Thursday.
“I’m so excited and happy,” said Suzanna Emanuel, the mother of the aptly named Miracle. “She will have a better future to look forward to. In school she has a tough time, but these glasses will let her get an education.”
The gift was courtesy of the Lumberton Lions Club.
New technology that brings sight to the legally blind was given a test run at Robeson Community College on Miracle and eight other visually impaired people. The device, called eSight, is worn like a pair of glasses. It’s equipped with a hi-definition camera that projects an image onto a screen and allows the wearer to see what’s in front of him or her. Using a hand-held controller, the wearer can change contrast and zoom in on smaller objects.
“To see her smile told a great story,” said George Lawson, Lions Club president. “It was the first time she’d seen her mother’s face. It was worth more than a thousand words.”
The event was part of a teleconference with the eSight team from Canada. Alisha Tampur, of eSight, worked with club members and the blind to determine if vision could be restored.
Those trying out the device ranged in age from 6 to 57.
The causes of blindness in the test group varied, and included disease, vehicular accidents and gunfire. Club members brought them all to RCC with the goal of giving them a chance at sight. Out of the nine, five were able to see using the new system. The reasons why four could not see were not clear.
Mayra McCloud, Lions Club regional chairperson, said those who weren’t able to see Thursday using the device shouldn’t give up because sight could be in the future.
“They are constantly tweaking the system,” McCloud said. “It’s changing rapidly, with new updates.”
“This is amazing technology,” said Channing Jones, the club treasurer. “It will improve lives, and change the world through technology. It will be exponentially better for educating kids in the classroom, day-to-day activities, and to be able to shop and fix meals. We’re excited to be part of a life-changing event for the visually impaired.”
Her granddaughter won’t have to worry; she can be independent and take care of herself, Althonia Sawyer said. Her granddaughter lost her vision to gunfire.
Garry Jones’ daughter, Zamiaia, tried the device and was able to see.
“It was a heartbreaking moment,” Jones said. “She hasn’t been able to see her family or loved ones. Something like this is great to see, those people attached to her, and put a face to a voice.”
There are still obstacles.
Each device costs $10,000, and insurance won’t cover the cost. The goal is to find the money to bring the devices to those in need.
“We’ll have to sell a lot of brooms,” said Jim Kirkland, club secretary.
The club sells brooms and other products to raise money.
“We also use donations,” said David Cox, First Vice District governor. “We’re looking for financial support, and give out 100 percent of donations.”
As the club gets money for the devices, they will be bought and distributed, starting with the children first, Cox said.
“Two of the children saw their parents for the first time tonight,” he said.
The eSight device is touted as a pathway to a new level of freedom, to work, see, to experience the colors and shapes of the world, and to embrace educational opportunities.
“If I’d had it when I was in school I’d probably be a lot smarter,” Evelyn Hicks said.
Hicks came to the event with her 7-year-old grandson, Kyland. She shares with him the eye disease called ocular albinism, and felt that her difficulty finding a job after college would be something that Kyland would also face. The eSight could change that.
“It would be wonderful for Kyland,” Hicks said. “He has problems with the chalkboard, reading, and being focused in class.”
Artie Stewart suffers from vision problems caused by diabetes. He hasn’t been able to watch a ballgame or a movie. A RCC student with a new business degree, he’s about to start classes at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He’s taken online classes at home using a magnifier, but would like to be able to attend in person.
“I’ve been able to see my wife before,” Stewart said. “But not like this. It makes all the difference in the world. With this I wouldn’t be as nervous to go into class. This would change a lot of things. I could read, watch a ballgame without having to ask the score. I could see for myself, and build my self-esteem and confidence.”
Stewart said has fought depression with the loss of sight, but his faith in God and himself is carrying him through to another day.
“I am not disabled,” Stewart said. “I am a person working with a disability. God has brought me a long way. If not for God and my wife and kids, I would be in a mess.”
The mission of the Lions Club comes from Helen Keller, who became blind and deaf after suffering a fever at a young age.
“Be knights for the blind,” Keller said.
The Lions Club also works for eyesight loss prevention, distributing glasses, and gives free eye checks in Robeson County public schools at the kindergarten, second and fourth grade levels.
“We haven’t been able to give sight to the blind,” Cox said, “until today.”