Parenting

The gift of sight: A little girl's new perspective

Sonia shares the story of a young Ottawa girl with a rare eye condition called optic nerve hypoplasia.

Emma-Rose Gibson.

There are few among us who can claim to remember the poignant moment of seeing their own mother’s face for the very first time, but for eight-year-old Emma-Rose Gibson it’s a memory she won’t soon forget.

After all, it just happened earlier this month.

When Emma-Rose was born with an eye condition called optic nerve hypoplasia, doctors told her parents that she would never see anything. But her mother, Jennifer-Anne Gibson, says she didn’t buy it. She argued with doctors, sought other medical opinions and above all, held out hope that things would somehow change for her young daughter.

Her mother’s intuition proved correct this year, when she heard about an Ottawa-based company called eSight Corp that develops high-tech glasses specifically for individuals with low vision. Jennifer-Anne and her husband, Justin Gibson, contacted the company about making a pair of glasses for Emma-Rose and earlier this month, the little girl had the chance to try them out.

“It was amazing because I had never seen my mom clear before,” says Emma-Rose. “In fact, I’ve never seen anyone’s face that clear before.”

Watching her daughter observe the world around her for the first time, Jennifer-Anne says she couldn’t hold back her own tears of joy.

“When Emma-Rose first tried on the glasses, all sorts of thoughts of what she could do in her life came to my mind all at once,” says Jennifer-Anne. “She could read, see plays, see her friends, see her blackboard in school and see presentations.

“The benefits aren’t just for now, but throughout her whole life — in high school and in her future career.”

Jennifer-Anne and Justin have spent the past eight years helping their daughter maneuvre through life with 20/400 vision. But they are both quick to point out that their spunky kid has never allowed her disability to slow her down.

“She’s very headstrong,” explains Jennifer-Anne. “She’s right up there with her friends doing the monkey bars at the playground.”

Emma-Rose, who loves to write her own songs and fictional stories, is also very open to talking about her disability. When the family moved to a new neighbourhood in Ottawa and Emma-Rose started at a different school, she was anything but shy.

“She asked her teacher if she could present to the class, and began by introducing herself, explaining her eye condition and the equipment she uses in class,” says Jennifer-Anne. “She then showed her cane to the class and explained how she uses the cane.

“I was amazed by how the children reacted; they were very tuned in to what she was saying and applauded her when she was done. To this day, her classmates understand her.”

While regular glasses won’t help Emma-Rose, eSight’s product — called eSight Eyewear — can correct her vision to a stunning 20/30. The innovative technology has opened up a whole new world for the bubbly little girl.

“My favourite part was when I got to see my family and getting to see outside,” says Emma-Rose. “I can’t even seen 10 feet away from me normally, and I saw a store that was like, driving distance away! It was really cool.”

eSight Eyewear incorporates a high-resolution video camera and a bright, high-contrast “virtual” display for each eye. The futuristic specs can take still photos, which is a great classroom tool; Emma-Rose could take a picture of the blackboard filled with notes, for example.

For the young family, the catch comes in the form of the product’s price tag; the newly-developed eSight Eyewear costs about $10,000 per pair. In an effort to raise funds to assist them with the purchase, a ‘Fundraising Bowl-a-thon’ will be held in Emma-Rose’s honour at Merivale Bowling Centre in Ottawa this Sunday, March 24.

Jennifer-Anne says she has been overwhelmed by the positive response from the community; the event will be sponsored by the City of Ottawa and Scotiabank. Her family is looking forward to a fun-filled afternoon of bowling, games and prizes.

Emma-Rose will even add her own special item to the event’s agenda; the musically-gifted little girl plans to sing for all her guests.

“She has an incredible comfort in front of an audience,” says her mom, who adds that her daughter recently started taking singing lessons. Emma-Rose wants to perform “Amazing Grace”.

“The words to the song are extremely meaningful as they represent never losing hope,” explains Jennifer-Anne. “That has been an important lesson throughout this entire experience.

“Whether it’s what you can accomplish or amazing things that may come your way in life, there is hope!”

For more information on how you can send donations to Emma-Rose, please visit her Facebook page: Esight for Emma.

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