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Davis man’s gift of sight challenges an already good life

June 11, 2007
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

Robert Kurson couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned. It was 4 a.m. and he was thinking about the single most wonderful experience it would be possible for a person have.

Would it be a night of romance with the object of your heart’s desire? Would it be listening to live music by your favorite musician outside under the stars?

Or perhaps restored vision should go on the list. What might it be like, he wondered, to be totally blind for a lifetime and then be given the opportunity to see.

Kurson, a journalist, decided to find out.

In his research, he found that there were fewer than 20 cases of restored vision worldwide and contrary to what you might think, many of these cases did not have happy outcomes. Several suddenly sighted people reported being profoundly disappointed in the real world and suffered severe depression.

But the more Kurson researched the field, the more he suspected that the most recent case – inventor and businessman Michael May of Davis – would be different. Kurson wanted to know what happened to May visually and emotionally when his sight, which he lost at age 3, was given back to him through stem cell transplant surgery at age 46.

He contacted May who was polite but firm and said “no” to his request for an interview.

Fortunately, Kurson persisted. Eventually May invited the Chicago writer to Davis probably not realizing that he was on his way to making a new best friend who would become a semi-permanent fixture in his house for the next two years, one that didn’t hesitate to ask him every question he could think of.

The result was “Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See,” published this year by Random House.

Kurson and May came to Border’s Books in Davis one Tuesday night at the end of last month to talk about their friendship, May’s eyesight, and the book.

The take-home truth that encapsulates May’s story is this: “Vision has little to do with the eyes, it occurs in the brain,” Kurson said. “You have to know things in order to see.”

It’s that story – the story of May adapting to his new vision – that makes up half the book.

“New vision requires endless cognitive deciphering,” said Kurson. For some formerly blind people, the mental work involved is overwhelming.

For May, it was an irresistible – but not always easy -- challenge.

In fact, when he composed a pro and con list before undergoing his stunningly successful eye surgery, he had a great many reasons not to go forward and only one reason to continue. That reason? Curiosity.

(For a description of the exact moment May could see – when the bandages were removed from his eyes in the doctor’s office – go directly to page 126.)

Maybe that’s the reason he went forward with the book, too, to satisfy his curiosity. Plus, he wanted people to know what was possible.

“I thought I might (write my own story) in 10 or 15 years,” said May. “But I wanted more than 100 people to read it.”

He’s happy with the way “Crashing Through” turned out.

“(Kurson) knows me better than anyone on the planet,” he said, smiling.

He says significant therapy is needed for people who have vision recovery. They need to make sense of the world around them cognitively, which happens automatically as the brain develops throughout infancy and childhood. When the brain isn’t given a chance to do this kind of wiring, it’s apparently lost forever.

For instance, he has trouble with depth perception and with making sense of faces.

Today, although May has vision, he can’t drive or read without effort and he still uses a guide dog. It just makes life easier.

“The first several months seeing was hard work,” May said. “I’ve learned to deal with vision and fold it in among other skills.”

May says he was pleased, of course, to really see his mother, wife, and two sons. But surprised? No. He already knew what they looked like.

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at gizmo@dcn.org and watch for more local writers to be featured biweekly at this web site.

For More Information, Visit These Links:
More about Michael May in Associated Press release at ThirdAge.Com
All about The Eye at Wikipedia

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

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