wife thought her husband was blind until she notices this life is a struggle there are no two ways about it, but for some, this battle is far harder than most, and Gene Purdy knew that well. The man grew up in a normal suburban neighborhood only for his own genetics to end up betraying him. At just 16 years old, he was diagnosed with an inherited genetic disorder which all but ensured that the teenager would be blind for life. How did Gene overcome this diagnosis to live a full life?
Purdy wasn’t born visually impaired; overall, his eyes functioned normally and no one suspected that this would change, not even his doctors. Without any signs of his eventual diagnosis, Purdy managed to live a full and healthy childhood. He remembered reading comic books and playing video games with his friends. He could even recall what his favorite TV characters looked like, and all in all, he enjoyed an idyllic and full life. Of course, as you already know from the title, that was about to change.
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Gene first experienced issues with his vision when he was a school boy. He’d have subtle moments of vision loss, which was all but ignored by the young active boy. After months, he finally told his parents, who assumed he was just short-sighted. After a few months of relying on prescription glasses, with his vision only worsening with each passing month, it was time for him to see an eye specialist.
Within just a couple of months of experiencing mild vision loss, Gene was at an ophthalmologist waiting on the test results that would forever change his life. The doctor had calmly listened to all of Gene’s complaints, but one look at the young boy’s file, and he rushed him to the lab. No parent wants to hear that their young child is sick, but sadly, that is exactly the news that the doctor had in store for Gene’s parents. The 16-year-old had Stargardt’s disease, and to say that his parents were crushed would be an understatement.
The diagnosis was followed by some more tests, and then some more, and again it was confirmed. The young Gene did have the rare genetic eye disease, which was all but incurable. Stargardt’s is an eye disease that affects the retina and it makes the central vision go blurry so that it’s really difficult to see features, faces. Doctors warned Gene to expect the worst. This was just the start of a long battle with his diagnosis, all of which would end with complete vision loss for the young man.
Gene thought he had his whole life to enjoy in front of him, but with just one doctor’s visit, it had all changed in a second. From then on, Purdy learned to live alongside his diagnosis. Like most things, at first, it was not easy. He lost friends, connections, and was left behind in major life milestones. But still, the young boy powered through. He studied hard and got accepted into college, and that’s where he met Joy, the literal and emotional kind.
The two first met in a college lecture and instantly clicked. “When we actually met, he kept walking by and I’m waving, trying to get his attention, and he keeps walking past me. The next time I saw him, it’s like, ‘What’s your deal?’ He told me that he was blind, and so I was like, ‘Okay, well, you can come sit with me,’” Joy said. Joy didn’t see Gene as only his disability and saw him the great man he was and could be.
From friends and best friends to lovebirds and ending with marriage, Joy and Gene were a match made in heaven and complimented each other in every way. Friends and family were equally impressed by the couple and knew they were going to last forever. The young family soon grew, with the couple welcoming their first child together. A few years later, they welcomed another. Life was once a struggle for Gene, and while he still had his bad days, it was getting easier.
His days of juggling lectures, books, and stumbling into unknown rooms were behind him. Gene was busy playing with water guns with his children and tucking them into bed every night. He tried to be a good father to his kids and, of course, be a husband worthy of Joy. And while his life was perfect, Gene always wished and yearned to be able to see the beautiful faces of his family, a reasonable dream, one which was about to come true.
Not in love with Gene yet? Well, let us tell you a bit more about the young father’s perseverance. His wife was a complete foodie, and so was Gene. Rather than having to depend on Joy for always cooking, Gene learned how to navigate the kitchen himself. As always, he didn’t let his lack of vision get in the way. Gene started with learning a few of his favorite recipes by heart and practiced them until he executed them perfectly for his wife. And just like that, Purdy became an unlikely chef.
Like so many of life’s events, this one also happened on a quiet night. Gene was cooking a meal for the family, and Joy was watching TV after spending a busy day with the kids. The young mother was actually drifting off to sleep when she saw it for the first time. Her sleepy mind was instantly pulled into wakefulness when she heard Rachel Ray talk about Stargardt’s disease.
She turned on the Rachel Ray show, and she said that they’re going to help someone with Stargardt’s disease, a rather uncommon disease, and definitely not something which would be so commonly discussed. Awakened and intrigued, Joy watched her world change right in front of her eyes.
Rachel Ray, the show’s host, called a person with Stargardt’s disease onto the stage, and what happened next left Joy in tears. Ray explained how the person suffered from Stargardt’s disease and was visually impaired. She then went on explaining the harsh nature of the disease. All of these details were nothing new to Joy, who’d seen Gene battle with it firsthand. She now assumed that this was nothing more than just a public awareness message about the disease.
And just as she was about to switch channels, she saw the device. The TV show’s assistants came in and placed a rather bulky device that looked like one of the virtual reality headsets her kids always wanted her to buy. Joy’s interest was piqued. Were they claiming this device could help those suffering from Stargardt’s disease see? And if yes, how? Had Joy ever heard of it? But before she could even finish her question, it was answered for her.
Yes, the device did work, and she saw it in action right in front of her eyes. The man on the show described in dazzling detail the certain people around him. He said it’s a pair of electronic glasses he uses. A camera to capture an image, a computer to enhance that image, and then it puts it on little screens, and the effect is they’re able to see much more of the world around them. Joy was crying, and she knew what she had to do next.
She unglued herself from the TV screen and rushed to find a pen
and paper. She had to do it now, or she’d lose her nerve. Joy, full of emotions, penned a raw letter to Rachel Ray, recounting her husband’s struggle with the disease and how much the family would appreciate if they too could try out the device. She wrote, “My husband has come to terms with his condition and constantly being told that there is no cure and nothing that anyone can do to improve his eyesight. I literally began shaking and crying for the next hour or more at the thought of my husband being able to see my face for the first time, to see our son for the first time.”
Of course, she never thought she’d get a reply. Gene and Joy’s story would be rather short if the husband and wife hadn’t got a reply from Ray. But to their surprise, they not only got a letter back from Ray but were asked if the family would like to visit the studio. The Purdy family knew this only meant one thing, and that could only be good news.
The Rachel Ray team flew them all the way to New York for the weekend, and after enjoying the city for a few hours, the family was whisked away to the studio. There they got all pampered and had their makeup done, something Joy enjoyed immensely. And just as the family were on the edge of their seats, it was finally confirmed to them that Gene would also get the chance to use the device.
Backstage, the family was full of nerves, most of all Gene. He hadn’t even seen his wife or children. In fact, he hadn’t probably seen anything for 15 years, and if these glasses worked on him, his whole world would change forever. And before he could think more about this, it was time for the family to go on. Later, Gene would recall everything as a blur, except for one thing: his beautiful wife, Joy.
After making all the pleasantries and introductions with Rachel Ray, it was time for him to try on the device. To help audience members and Gene’s family know what was happening, the Rachel Ray team had hooked a large screen to the device. This allowed viewers to see what Gene could or couldn’t see. After 15 years and countless battles, Gene Purdy saw his wife’s face. “She’s pretty,” was all he could manage to say, shocked and bewildered with happiness. Gene’s biggest wish had come true.
Joy was holding their son, tears welling up in her own eyes. She’d imagined this moment for countless hours in her mind, and for it to finally be happening, she was overwhelmed and began to cry. Even the live audience members couldn’t hold back their tears at this emotional moment. “I’ve been piecing together images a little at a time,” Jean said during the show, but finally, he was able to see his family, crisp and clear.
The incredible device which allowed Gene to do so is called eSight, and without the help of the Rachel Ray show, it would have been impossible for the family to afford it. Just the basic model cost fifteen thousand dollars, and before footing the bill, Gene wouldn’t have even been sure that it worked for him as well as it did.
After the segment was over, Gene and his family were still reeling from the experience. They couldn’t believe what they went through, and before they could find the words to thank Rachel Ray and her team, the host revealed that she had another surprise for the family. The device was theirs to keep. The couple were speechless. They thought they would only get to test the device for a short time and had no idea the TV show’s team would give them such an expensive and life-changing gift.
With the help of eSight, Gene could now play ball with his son. He could literally see his kids grow old and be present in so many more memories. His life’s trajectory was forever changed now, all thanks to one letter. He wondered what would have happened had his wife not seen that segment on the TV show. And before he let himself be swept away by the what-ifs, Gene decided to enjoy the here and now.
Joy took to Facebook to thank the show. She wrote, “Thankful to Ray and her amazing team for this priceless gift. Your show gave us a new beginning.” And while Gene had never let his diagnosis get the better of him, this truly was just that, a new beginning for the family.
After appearing on the show, Gene went on to spread awareness about Stargardt disease and appeared on many talk shows, urging parents to keep an eye on their children’s vision and, of course, thanking the creators of eSight.