Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Dr. Mary Sedgwick’s futuristic, glasses resembling something from a Star Wars movie were the topic of conversation at the Feb. 25 Lions Club of Franklin bi-monthly meeting. At each second and fourth Monday meeting, a guest presenter shares about a community and/or learning opportunity. What Dr. Sedgwick offered regarding her high-tech apparatus was both personal and altruistic.
Prior to 2004, her eyesight gradually deteriorated due to optic nerve disease. Dr. Sedgwick was able to complete medical school and residency as an obstetrician and gynecologist. But one March evening she went to bed after being able to discern characters on a television set from six feet away and woke up in complete darkness. After evaluation and medication, she was able to regain shapes and shadows, but no details.
Dr. Sedgwick was legally blind for 15 years. She had adjusted to life as a visually impaired person using a guide dog, “Lucy,” when she was invited last year to try on eSight glasses. The technology was designed by 19-year-old, Conrad Lewis, because his two sisters were legally blind. At first she was apprehensive, “but then I thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’”
A video posted to Facebook captures Dr. Sedgwick trying on the eSight glasses and seeing her dog for the first time. She and others around her burst into tears. “I saw Lucy, her beautiful eyes, looking back at me,” she said. “It was life changing.”
Since the Lions Club, of which Dr. Sedgwick is a member of the Sand Hill chapter for Enka-Candler, N.C., was a resource for her to connect with other visually impaired people – especially at Camp Dogwood at Lake Norman – she determined her calling would be to teach others about eSight glasses. Regularly, she travels throughout North Carolina and the United States telling her story. She has also been featured on news outlets, such as WLOS-TV, and her success with eSight has been circulated internationally.
The electronic eyewear is actually a high-speed, high-resolution camera that captures in real time what a user is viewing. The eSight algorithms enhance the video – of what is being seen – and project it onto two OLED screens in front of the user’s eyes. Dr. Sedgwick now sees full-color, highly detailed images. She can zoom into images; take photos of what she sees; adjust the focus; select a fine contrast; adjust brightness; and much more. She can also bring up a PDF file as well as connect to a computer or television screen. The glasses are even equipped with a small headlamp-type flashlight.
“These glasses were a game changer for me. And I want them to be for others because everyone deserves to see.”
After a time period of becoming familiar with the glasses, Dr. Sedgwick said she desired to see last year’s Chihuly glass sculptures at Biltmore Estate. A few years earlier, she had visited a Chihuly exhibit but could only “see” the sculptures by touching them. “At Biltmore they were so vivid through the eSight glasses … so detailed. I was able to zoom in. I told my friends I have better sight than they do now.”
Because Lions Club International’s main global cause is “to prevent avoidable blindness and improve quality of life for people who are blind and visually impaired,” Dr. Sedgwick offers to screen possible candidates for eSight everywhere she goes. Often the glasses work, at least somewhat, for people who have lost all or partial sight due to such conditions as Macular Degeneration, Optic Atrophy, Stargardt Disease, some forms of Glaucoma, and more.
So far she has screened at least 200. Many, after putting on the eSight glasses, go from being legally blind to reading small font type. Because the glasses are expensive, in the thousands of dollars, Dr. Sedgwick offers fundraising ideas as well as answers questions regarding obtaining, using, and maintaining the wearable technology. She announced that a new program enables veterans to obtain the eSight glasses for free through the Veteran’s Administration.
“I would rather share the gift of sight with other visually impaired people than do anything else,” said Sedgwick, who still requires Lucy to guide her when she walks because of ongoing peripheral vision challenges. “The joy I get to experience when people realize they can see is so worth it.”
On Feb. 25, at a conference room at the Franklin Hampton Inn, Dr. Sedgwick screened a few individuals, including Jonathan Elliott, from Bryson City, who needed some assistance to find the chair. Within a few moments of wearing the eSight glasses, he was reading lines of texts.
“Lions Club is really a civic-minded organization,” said John Hamlin, past president of Lions Club of Franklin. “We love our community, and if what we do helps the people of Macon County, we’re all for it.”
Beyond hosting helpful, informative presenters such as Dr. Sedgwick, Hamlin said that collecting glasses to be recycled is an important project for the 30 or so area members, as well as for members globally. Plus, a Spot Vision Screening machine owned by the Lions Club of Franklin is left at area schools for 30 to 60 days so that every child in Macon County from grades kindergarten through fourth has a chance to be evaluated.