HAMLET — Rinika Pittman was able to read Monday for the first time since 2014, thanks to new technology for the visually impaired.
Pittman, who started losing her vision in 2013 due to complications associated with diabetes, was one about 24 people who came out to the Hamlet Lions Club to see if eSight glasses would be able to help.
Conducting the screenings were Dr. Mary Sedgewick, who lost her vision shortly after beginning her career as a practicing obstetrician, and Mayra McCloud.
Pittman said her husband’s “jaw would drop to see me reading like that.”
With McCloud helping her operate the zoom feature on the special glasses, Pittman was able to see that her cousin, who was sitting nearby, had glasses of her own.
“It was overwhelming,” she said, she said about the experience. “I can’t even put it in words.”
The special electronic glasses, which cost just less than $6,000, capture high-quality video and display it on high-resolution screens in front of each eye.
The footage is also enhanced specifically for the visually impaired. Wearers are able to zoom in 24 times, change the brightness of the screens and change the contrast from black on white, to white on black, to blue on yellow or several other options.
Because of using cameras, the wearer has to learn to keep his or her head as still as possible when reading, especially when zoomed in.
The glasses can also take a screenshot or upload a PDF and the wearer is able to read text or scan the image by moving his or her head.
Sedgewick wears her eSight glasses an average of eight to 10 hours each day. However, last weekend she had them on for 19 hours with no problem.
She first got hers on June 8 of last year and wearing them has become second-nature.
“There’s times when I want to live in a sighted world and the non-sighted world that I’ve become accustomed to,” she said. “Some days, I just won’t put them on for a day and really use my senses …”
While wearing the glasses, Sedgewick doesn’t have any peripheral vision to see the ground below her, so she uses her leader dog, Lucy, to guide her, “so I don’t trip on anything.”
Sedgewick, with the help of the glasses and Lucy, recently “soared through” O’Hare International Airport in Chicago to her gate.
“I did not wait for the American Airlines assistant,” she said. “I was in heaven because I could do it and I have that independence.”
Sedgewick said people keep asking her if she’s going back into practice and she tells them no.
“Now I have the ability to bring this gift of sight to people and bring them new life again,” she said. “I’m still helping people and it’s so rewarding.”
This weekend, Sedgewick said there was a 4-year-old boy in Wilmington who had never seen his father before and a woman at the Hamlet screening was able to see a picture of her grandchild for the first time.
“You can’t change those moments for anything,” she said.
Stephen Wyand, of Rockingham, was born prematurely and has always had vision problems.
While waiting, the legally blind drummer said it didn’t matter to him whether they worked or not, but he’d give them a shot.
“I’ve made it this far,” he said. “And I don’t let nothing affect me because you’ve got to keep going.”
But the eSight glasses won’t work for everyone, including Laura Stutts of Carthage.
“They’re probably not going to help me much because I have not central vision,” she said. “It’s all peripheral.”
Phillip Savage, of Aberdeen, is also a candidate for eSight glasses.
Savage first started losing his sight at the age of 38 when, during a bow competition, noticed his target was fading away. The following year he was diagnosed with macular degeneration and was forced to give up driving at the age of 42.
His doctor told him of several ways to get help, including the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh.
Savage took classes on independent living and now teaches others to be independent, including using iPads to “be more connected with the world around them.”
“When someone loses an ability, their friendships … what they had, diminishes,” he said. “These support groups help out a lot.”
Before losing his sight, Savage worked in construction, as a movie theater manager and was a master mason.
“With these glasses, I just hope to be able to do some of the things I used to do,” he said.
Savage also has a more personal goal.
“I’d like to go see an old girlfriend of mine — just to see her again.”