Like many men his age, Gene Purdie had settled down into marriage and fatherhood. But in 2015 the Denver native’s situation differed to that of his peers in one key respect. Simply put, Gene was never able to see his wife, Joy, or his son, Lincoln, properly.
You see, unfortunately, Gene has a disease that seriously affects his vision. And while this issue is something that he has had to live with ever since he was young, he wasn’t actually formally diagnosed until he was 16 years old.
At that time, Gene was given the news that he had Stargardt disease – an inherited condition that affects the retina. Typically, people with Stargardt tend to lose some vision as children or in adolescence. Appropriately, then, the condition is one of a number that are grouped under the label of juvenile macular degeneration, or JMD.
Juvenile retinoschisis and Best disease are also classed as among the varieties of JMD, for instance. And, naturally, these other disorders also generally come into effect during a person’s younger years. But what exactly is Stargardt disease, and how does it differ to those similar conditions?
Well, according to WebMD, “[Stargardt disease is] the most common form of JMD. It’s named after German eye doctor Karl Stargardt, who discovered it in 1901. It affects about one in 10,000 children in the U.S. [And] although the disease starts before age 20, you may not notice vision loss until age 30 to 40.”
From there, the medical post went on to outline the symptoms that you may experience if you develop Stargardt disease. It continued, “[Stargardt is] usually diagnosed by yellow-white spots that appear in and around the macula, or the center of the retina. If they cover the back of the eye, then it is called fundus flavimaculatus.”
The post continued to explain, “These deposits are an abnormal buildup of a fatty substance produced during normal cell activity.” And, unsurprisingly, this inherited disease can have a major impact on a person’s life – especially as there’s no way to treat it. As it is, the condition is one that an individual must learn to cope with, although adaptive training can help.
And although it’s uncommon for a sufferer to completely lose their sight, the condition can nevertheless severely deteriorate their vision. Given time, in fact, their eyesight may be as poor as 20/200 grade. If you’re not sure what this means, then here’s a simple explanation. While an individual with normal eyesight can clearly observe something from 200 feet away, a person with 20/200 vision has to get to within 20 feet of that same object in order to see it well.
Unfortunately for Gene, then, he is only able to see small amounts through his peripheral vision – and nothing that’s directly in front of him. This all leaves the dad assembling scenes in parts – much in the same manner as putting together a jigsaw puzzle. For instance, if he wants to read something, he’ll use the camera on his phone to zoom in on the text.
However, Stargardt disease doesn’t close Gene off completely from the world. Indeed, he can still perform many day-to-day activities, such as cooking – even if he has to lean in close to a cookbook. And despite the difficulty involved in the process, Joy has maintained that her spouse is still a better chef than she is.
Still, even though Gene had come to terms with his lack of vision some time ago, the future didn’t look promising. In fact, in a 2015 interview with The Rachael Ray Show, the Purdie family said that they’d constantly been told there was no cure for Stargardt disease. As a result, then, they believed that nothing could improve Gene’s vision.
What’s more, Gene’s condition meant that he had not been able to see his wife properly for the whole time they’d known each other. Nor, indeed, was he totally able to envision his baby boy. But then one day Joy turned on the television. And, as she would later reveal in the 2015 interview, she saw something that had made her start “shaking and crying.”
Specifically, Joy was watching an episode of The Rachael Ray Show that featured a woman with Stargardt disease. She had been given technically advanced electronic glasses to help her condition – and with astonishing results. After putting the eyewear on, you see, the woman was able to witness her surroundings much more clearly – and after five years of deteriorating vision, too.
In fact, the Rachael Ray Show guest was able to see her sisters within moments of looking through the special glasses. So, after thinking that there was nothing she could do to help Gene, Joy was overwhelmed. One day, then, it could be possible for her husband to see his son.
Then Joy started writing a letter to The Rachael Ray Show in which she shared the couple’s story from the very beginning. And the message may very well have touched someone involved in the program, as before long she and Gene were invited onto the set, too.
Naturally, Gene was excited – especially if showing up on TV enabled him to finally view his loved ones. In the interview captured before he tried the glasses, he even remarked, “I don’t think there’s words for the moment that I first see my family.” Whatever the outcome, then, it would likely be an emotional ride for the dad.
During that interview, we are also given a glimpse of Gene and Joy’s life at home as well as more details of their shared story. Lincoln’s mother recalls the time, for instance, when she attempted to grab her future husband’s attention – although her initial efforts weren’t entirely successful.
Joy goes on to explain on camera, “When we actually met, [Gene] kept walking by. [And] I’m waving trying to get his attention, and he keeps walking past me. So the next time I saw him, I was like, ‘What’s your deal?’ He told me that he was blind. And I was like, ‘Okay. Well, you can come sit with me!’”
In addition, Joy shares some of the content of the letter that she penned to The Rachael Ray Show. She begins, “I would love to share a little bit about my husband’s eyesight. I was told that he was born with Stargardt disease, but it was not until he was almost 16 years old that they were able to diagnose it.”
From there, Joy touches upon Gene’s attitude to the situation given the knowledge that the disease couldn’t be treated. And she admits, too, that she was initially skeptical about the original segment on The Rachael Ray Show. As we know now, though, those doubts were quickly turned on their head.
Joy continues, “Although I heard Rachael Ray say that they were going to help someone see, I still did not believe it because we’ve always been told ‘No’. 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.”
After reading the letter, however, Joy breaks down in tears, leaving Gene having to comfort his wife. Then we catch another glimpse of the couple playing with Lincoln before the youngster offers his dad a big hug. And with that, the opening segment comes to an emotional end.
Finally, the Purdies are welcomed onto the stage and introduced to Taylor West from eSight – the company that makes the special eyewear. And West goes on to explain that the glasses have a camera inside that records what the person wearing them is looking at. Subsequently, an interior computer enhances these images, thus allowing the person with poor vision to see more clearly.
At this point, though, Ray herself shares something with Gene and the audience. She says, “What I love about watching Gene’s story in that piece is how full of life [he is]. You have not let this limit you or bum you out. You are cooking; you’re kicking [Joy’s] butt in the kitchen!”
Ray adds to Gene, “You know, you struggle so hard to read and embrace the sight that you do have. I just love that about you. You’re such a great human being. Great human being.” Then the big moment finally arrives for Gene, Joy and Lincoln as West prepares the special device.
At last, Gene is given the all-important glasses to try on. These are connected up to an in-studio screen, enabling the audience to see what Gene is looking at. The eSight employee adds, moreover, that the glasses should temporarily give Gene something close to “typical eyesight.”
And sure enough, after the glasses work their magic, Gene can see his wife and son for the first time. In the highly emotional first few moments, he manages to say, “Wow, she’s pretty” when he sees Joy. Then it’s time for Gene to look at Lincoln through the device.
At this moment, the audience bursts into applause, while Joy begins to cry as she holds their son. Gene also explains how he is now able to see their whole faces at once – something he couldn’t do before. And given the gravity of the situation, the Denver native was unsurprisingly emotional.
Ray starts to tear up as well, saying, “We’re all crying now! We’re gonna freak the baby out!” Ultimately, though, the host switches her focus back to Joy to gauge the mother’s reaction. “How you feeling?” Ray asks, to which Gene’s wife replies, “Hopeful.”
Gene eventually turns his attention to the audience, too, and is amazed that he can see many of the faces looking back at him. But he isn’t just taking in the whole studio. You see, Joy’s husband is also scouring the crowd for two people in particular.
As it happens, Gene’s parents are sitting in the audience, and he also hadn’t been able to see them clearly before. Then, once Gene finds his folks, Ray motions for mom and dad to stand up. Following that, the pair come down to join their son on the stage so he can get a closer look at them.
Meanwhile, when Gene is asked by Ray how he feels about his improved vision, he fights back tears and says, “It’s overwhelming.” But, as it turns out, that wasn’t all that the dad had to come to terms with. Before the show ends, there’s one last surprise for the Purdies.
In an incredible gesture, eSight give Gene and Joy the electronic glasses for free. Now, then, the Denver man will be able to see his loved ones on a regular basis. Yes, while he’d always been told that there was nothing that could be done about his vision, technology has completely turned his luck around.
The gift was a generous one, too, as Ray reveals on the show that the glasses would normally cost around $15,000. And, interestingly, the segment on which the Purdies featured has had quite a life beyond its original broadcast. Since eSight’s official YouTube channel uploaded the clip in November 2015, in fact, it has made a big impact online.
To date, the emotional video has earned almost eight and a half million views on YouTube as well as over 9,000 likes. The footage has generated almost 800 comments, too, with online users flocking to share their reactions. And many of those giving their opinions seemed to be touched by what they had seen.
“What a blessed love,” one user said in the YouTube comments section. “The wife is lucky because she knows this man loves her not for her looks. And the man is, too, because he found a wife who loves him despite [his condition]. Blessed family.”
Another individual wrote, “[Gene] is so lucky that God sent a guardian angel as beautiful as [Joy]. Damn, dude, you won’t [find] another woman like that for a century. [As] for the video, this makes me melt inside with happiness!” Those sentiments were shared by many other individuals on the website.
Meanwhile, a fellow commenter was hopeful that eSight’s glasses would eventually reach people in nations outside of the U.S. They wrote, “Wow, what awesome technology to help [the] visually impaired to see our beautiful world. Good work eSight! Please bring this technology to India and other countries around the world.”
But as the comments continued to flood in on YouTube, one message in particular stood out. For you see, one of Joy’s relatives responded to the video, too. And judging by her words, she was grateful that Gene and Joy had been given such an incredible opportunity.
The woman, who was posting under the name Darlene Richards, wrote, “My beautiful daughter Joy and son-in-law Gene with baby Lincoln. My grandson. Thank you eSight for giving these glasses to Gene to be able to see my daughter for the first time. WHAT A GREAT DAY!”