Lifestyle

From legal blindness to the gift of sight, CCA student looks to give back

Joel Gomez
Joel Gomez with the eSight device. Courtesy

Joel Gomez, 14, who was born with legal blindness, will always remember the very first moment in his entire life he was able to finally see clearly. It was at a San Diego-area technology convention and he was intrigued by a booth courtesy of the company eSight.

“It looked something like virtual reality, so I was really interested in it,” the future Canyon Crest Academy sophomore explained. “Glasses never worked for me, but when I tried the eSight device on I could see across the convention hall. It was an incredible moment.”

Worn like a pair of regular glasses and anointed by TIME magazine as one of the best inventions of 2017, eSight (which has its United States headquarters in Santa Clarita) is the only clinically validated device in existence that, according to its website, “enables those living with vision loss to see, be mobile, and engage in virtually any activity of daily living.”

Normally Gomez had trouble seeing even five feet in front of him. With this portable, electronic device, he was able to see for as far as he desired. Gomez knew then and there that his life was transformed for the better. “If I was born even 10 years ago, it would have been a lot harder (for people like me) than it is now. I feel very lucky and special.”

Considering each device carries the hefty price tag of $10,000, Gomez was helped by the generosity of donors and the company’s affordability team to own a device of his own, the effects of which he enjoyed his first day back at school. “Normally I had to sit a couple feet away from the board in class,” he says. “Now suddenly I have the freedom of sitting next to friends and being able to see the board from everywhere, from notes in English to numbers in math class.”

Not taking his good fortune for granted, Joel is now the face of a campaign associated with eSight aptly dubbed the #TogetherWeSee Movement. Its goal is to give 13 kids from around the world struggling with vision issues an eSight device. “Since I know what it’s like to be a visually-impaired person living in a world that isn’t geared to visually- impaired people I wanted to pay it forward to help other kids have the gift of sight,” said Joel of the fundraiser.

The children who would benefit all suffer from a range of vision issues, all of whom requested an eSight and were chosen at random. They include an 11-year-old South African boy whose vision was impaired by childhood cancer, a 5-year-old Michigan girl living with optic nerve hypoplasia, and a 14-year-old Romanian boy who has 10 percent vision due to the ravages of macular degeneration.

Of the campaign, the eSight team has been working hand-in-hand with Gomez on his quest which has reached a global audience, with Gomez noting that “donations are coming in from all over world.” It’s also part of a larger effort to raise awareness for an affliction most people with 20/20 vision take for granted. According to the latest statistics from the American Foundation for the Blind, 20 million Americans alone suffer from the effects of vision loss.

At press time, the fundraiser has raised $68,000 of its $130,000 goal, with Gomez eager to get that number higher and grateful for the amount raised to date. “It’s been pretty successful so far,” he explains, summing up his journey from blindness to sight and now, philanthropy. “It’s an incredible feeling.”

For more about Gomez’s story and to help his cause, visit the #TogetherWeSee fundraiser’s home on the web: www.gofundme.com/TogetherWeSee

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