Gene Purdie looks like just another guy. He has a steady job, a gorgeous wife named Joy, and Lincoln, an adorable son. He likes to cook dinners for his family, spend time with his wife and play with his son. But Gene sees the world a little differently from us. Gene has Stargardt disease, which causes progressive damage to the macula, the part of the retina that is responsible for keeping your vision straight and sharp. This means that if you have Stargardt disease, you would probably be able to see out of your peripheral vision, but anything in the central part of your eyesight would be blurry.
Although he was born with this disease, Gene’s vision deteriorated over time and it wasn’t until he was 16 that he was formally diagnosed. Being a teenager is hard enough, but despite losing the majority of his eyesight at such a developmental time, Gene handled it so well that many couldn’t even tell that his eyesight was getting progressively worse.
In fact, Gene hasn’t let his disease get in the way of his life at all. Sixteen years after his diagnosis, Gene met Joy and they instantly fell in love — well, not instantly!
When Joy tells the story of how they met, she says Gene walked by her several times as she tried to get his attention. Finally, she went up to him and asked, “What’s your deal!?” After Gene informed her that he was blind, she told him to “come sit with me.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Gene and Joy soon welcomed their son Lincoln into the world. Although Gene has never been able to even fully see his family and he has never been able to watch his son grow, he does not let his disease affect their quality of life.
There were certainly some adjustments to make in the beginning, but Gene is there for his family like any other dad, cooking meals and taking care of his son. He’s so good at cooking, in fact, that Joy says his skills completely surpass her own. According to her, Gene takes 30 minutes to cook something that takes her 2 hours.
One day, Joy was watching TV when she saw something on The Rachael Ray Show that stopped her in her tracks. A woman, also legally blind like her husband, had her vision temporarily restored through the use of some special glasses.
Joy describes this as “the most exciting day of my life.” She was in tears as she watched the hour-long segment about this woman, thinking the whole time only of how this could change her husband’s and her family’s life.
She wrote a heartfelt letter to The Rachael Ray Show detailing his daily challenges, but also making sure to mention how resilient Gene has been throughout his life, and how he's a wonderful husband and father. In the letter, she also wrote about her hope to have Gene see their son for the first time — something no parent should have to miss.
The show wrote back to Joy and told her that they wanted to fly the entire family, including Gene’s parents, out for a taping. They said a representative from eSight glasses, a company that helps people with severely impaired vision through the use of their revolutionary new glasses, would also be there for the show.
Finally, the big day arrived. Gene, Joy, Lincoln and Gene's parents flew out to New York City for the taping.
Gene, Joy, and their son were all on stage at The Rachael Ray Show, and while Joy and Rachael spoke about the challenges Gene faced in his day-to-day life, Gene sat between them as the eSight representative put the headset on and made adjustments for the big reveal.
The eSight glasses look a bit like one of those VR headsets, and they work by using HD camera technology to capture high quality video image of the real world, which the software then tweaks and customizes, finally transmitting an image to the headpiece that adjusts the image and makes it viewable for the individual wearer.
Once the headset is on, everyone asks Gene what he can see. Gene goes quiet for a few seconds and then, as his gaze lands right on Joy, breaks out into a huge smile saying, “Oh, she’s pretty.”
It isn’t the compliment itself that gets to me, but the way he says it. It is a reminder to not take for granted the simple fact that we can see our loved ones, their smiles, and their beauty every day, the way Gene was able to for the first time. It was truly a great moment for love.
Gene goes on to explain that this is the first time he’s been able to see his wife and son’s faces, and that usually when he looks at them, he sees them in pieces and has to put those pieces together like a puzzle “and remember them for next time.” With this technology however, he is able to see them as you and I would. The effect is overwhelming.
Rachael also calls Gene’s parents out from the audience to join them on stage so Gene can see them for the first time since losing his sight at 16. It is equally emotional for Gene and his parents who have obviously been through a lot with their son's disease. Their joy at witnessing their son being able to see for the first time in over a decade is palpable as they cannot stop looking at him looking at them.
And for the final surprise, Rachael tells us that eSight will be gifting the glasses to Gene to continue using at home! At $15,000 a pair, they’re not at all cheap, but seeing the huge difference they made for Gene after mere minutes of having them on, the family and audience is overjoyed.
Watch the whole thing for yourself below. Just keep some tissues nearby!