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Old 09-26-2002, 08:48 AM   #1
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What a lovely story.............

MIKE MAY got real shock the day he discovered his wife was blonde.

Jennifer had not misled him. Mike had been blind since the age of three and was amazed by her hair colour on regaining his sight after more than 40 years.

Mike, 48, had never seen their two young sons either until a pioneering operation restored his vision.

He says: “The first thing I saw when the bandages came off was Jennifer.

“I couldn’t take her in. Her hair, her clothes, the colour of her eyes. I had to touch her to match what I was seeing with the picture I’d had in my head all those years.

“I’d been told she had blonde hair but I never knew blonde could be so many colours. “She looked beautiful. The room was full of doctors and cameras but it was a very intimate moment.”

Mike, from California, last saw the world as a toddler when, playing in the family garage, he set off a freak explosion. It cost him his left eye and all sight in his right. The family had moved to a mining town in New Mexico and young Mike had found an empty jar that had held chemicals to light miners’ lamps.

He rinsed out the jar, releasing a gas which was ignited by a spark from a nearby bonfire.

Mike says: “I can remember the details of the accident. Crawling around on the floor while my mother tried to wrap me in her arms.

“Later, in the air ambulance, I felt pinned down by the blankets while sun streamed through the window.

“But none of my memories is visual. I remember how things felt and sounded but not how they looked.”

Mike had no visual memories at all. They were all replaced by the pictures he developed in his mind to explain what he heard, felt and smelled.

He says: “One of my earliest memories is going deer hunting with my father. I know I could see then but I have no visual memories of the trip.

“I remember how the deer smelled and how it felt to be in the woods but not how things looked.”

Mike set about building his own pictures of the world and never allowed blindness to hold him back.

At school he learned American football — “I played defence. No need for accuracy” — and graduated from university with the equivalent of a PhD.

After university he worked for the CIA, deciphering thousands of documents in Braille.

Employers were reluctant at first to take him on.

Mike explains: “They never said ‘No’ but always passed me to someone else. I was unemployed for a year.”

Then, after convincing an enlightened bank manager, Mike became a successful entrepreneur in America’s Silicon Valley.

He helped invent a global positioning system linked to a Braille version of a hand-held computer to enable blind people to find shops and restaurants wherever they are.

Mike also taught himself to ski and holds the downhill speed record for a totally blind person.

He even parachuted from a plane at 30,000ft.

Mike says: “Sighted people have this idea of blindness as a totally dark, frightening world, so of course they regard it as a tragedy. But that’s not how it was for me.

“People imagine being blind by closing their eyes and trying to walk, which is terrifying. But I had my eyes closed for 43 years so I had a long time to get comfortable with it.”

Looking good ... Mike, his wife
Jennifer and son Wyndham

He met Jennifer in 1984 when she became an instructor at the blind ski-school he and a friend had set up in Kirkwood, California.

He says: “I had a reputation as a bit of a rogue and she ignored me at first. Then one night in the bar I asked a friend to set me up.

“We hung around her table and I told him to tap me on the shoulder when a seat next to her came free.

“He did and I slipped in next to her and started talking, just like a sighted person would.

“Later she asked me, ‘How did you do that?’ — but by then I was in.” The couple married in 1987 and have two sons, Carson, now ten, and eight-year-old Wyndham. Mike says: “People said, ‘Isn’t it a shame. Mike will never see them’, but I didn’t feel like that. When you’re with someone you love you have an image of them always, even if you can’t see.”

A chance meeting with Dr Daniel Goodman at a conference in San Francisco offered a faint chance of regaining his sight. Dr Goodman had been working on an operation to repair tissue around the cornea with stem cell tissue from donor eyes.

Mike says: “The chances of any success was only 50/50 and there was a risk of cancer from the anti-rejection drugs. But the possibility of seeing was like being offered a trip to the moon. I realised I had to take the risk.”

He underwent two operations, in November 1999 and March 2000, when he was given a replacement cornea.

He says: “Dr Goodman didn’t expect me to see anything for at least two weeks, so I had zero expectations.

“But when they took the bandages off a few hours later, I could see. It was astonishing.”

Mike is one of only 50 people worldwide to have had the operation and the only one to have regained his sight from being totally blind. He now has low vision, which means he can count fingers at up to five feet away, read one-inch high letters six inches away and recognise people from 20ft.

Mike says: “That first day coming home from the hospital was amazing.The most emotional thing was seeing the boys for the first time — though not for them! They just came home from school, said, ‘Hi Dad’, and rushed upstairs like every day. I called them back and sat them on my lap so I could get a good look at them.

“People said their eyes were blue but they are incredibly blue. And their hair is different-colours blond. “After that the boys got very excited about showing me things. We took a walk together and they pointed out every detail on the street.”

Mike knows his newfound sight is fragile. Last year his body began to reject the transplant and, although medication saved his vision, there is no guarantee it will last.

But he is determined to take in as much of the world as he can.

Meanwhile, Mike’s biggest problem is understanding what he is seeing.

He says: “I find it very distracting to look at people’s faces when I am having a conversation. My hearing and intuition had become very acute and now I can see their lips moving, eyelashes flickering and hands gesturing.

“That’s an amazing thing about learning to see, putting the world together one tiny detail at a time.”

Mike’s story is told in What’s Your Problem? The Man Who Learnt To See, BBC2 tonight at 9pm.

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Old 09-26-2002, 09:45 AM   #2
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Thank you Maddie-that is beautiful

It also points out how important organ donation is.

What an inspiring, amazing man.

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Old 09-26-2002, 11:30 AM   #3
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aaaaw Ill be watching that tonight
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Old 09-26-2002, 12:22 PM   #4
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indeed a lovely story
“Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.”
~Frank Zappa
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Old 09-26-2002, 12:54 PM   #5
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Re: What a lovely story.............

Originally posted by mad1
[B.The most emotional thing was seeing the boys for the first time [/B]
The whole story is beautiful, and this particular part brought tears in my eyes.
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Old 09-26-2002, 12:55 PM   #6
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I just saw an advert for this program a few minutes ago. I'll definitely be watching it. A very inspiring story
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Old 09-26-2002, 01:57 PM   #7
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I like reading stuff like that. Thanks.
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Old 09-26-2002, 02:14 PM   #8
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Old 09-26-2002, 05:24 PM   #9
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Wow, that is an amazing story!
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Old 09-26-2002, 07:35 PM   #10
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Beautiful story. Thank you for posting that story maddie.
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Old 09-26-2002, 08:21 PM   #11
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Old 09-26-2002, 08:53 PM   #12
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How do blind people even know how to picture something like "blue" or "blonde"? Maybe from dreams? Of course he had some memories of having seen, but most blind people don't.

Anyway, I know someone who lost his vision as a young boy (he could see only light and shadows) and a couple of years ago (in his 40's) had an operation that restored it. He still walks around looking at everyone and everything intensely, like it's for the first and possibly last time. He's quite an inspiration.
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Old 09-27-2002, 02:43 AM   #13
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Wonderful story!
<a href=http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v196/angelaharlem/thPaul_Roos28.jpg target=_blank>http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v1...aul_Roos28.jpg</a>
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Old 09-27-2002, 07:39 AM   #14
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Looking at this story again makes me put things in perspective and realize the triviality of my problems. It is a humbling experience.
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Old 09-27-2002, 05:27 PM   #15
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I saw the program on BBC2 last night, and it really struck me how much we take for granted about sight. When this guy got his sight back he had to learn things like the fact that things far away appear smaller than they really are, and that when you put one object in front of another it obscures the one behind it. It seems really weird that someone would have to learn that, because it's something people with sight automatically know. And they had to teach him how to tell the difference between men and women by their faces, because he couldn't distinguish between them. It was a really interesting program

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