Chilkat: Sight returns after years of blindness

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

An 86-year-old Klukwan man who has been legally blind for the past 16 years saw his grandchildren for the first time last week, and is looking forward to reading his Bible again after regaining a portion of his sight.

George Stevens, a cataract sufferer for nearly 20 years, said his vision spontaneously returned as he and his wife, Margaret, drove the Haines Highway on the afternoon of Feb. 21.

Now, he said he sees well enough to recognize faces, walk around the house without his cane, and read again with the help of magnifying glasses.

Stevens said it happened on the return leg of the couple's daily shopping run to town. As they approached mile 13 of the Haines Highway, Stevens said he noticed that the black spot that dominated his field of vision had suddenly turned to white.

"We started home and when we got up around 13 Mile, I noticed something like the white hood of a car." Stevens said. "Then it was silver colored and real bright. I kept watching that ball and pretty soon I saw a spark and mountains. I didn't say anything at first, I just sat there and thought, 'Why?' I prayed and asked God, 'Why me?' I could see. I finally told Margaret."

"I was stunned," Margaret Stevens said in disbelief. "I stopped the car right in the middle of the road."

Back home, Stevens proved his sight by walking from room to room without the cane he used for years, and performed tasks like opening and heating a can of soup. He surprised guests at a Juneau funeral last weekend, recognizing friends and family before they spoke.

Stevens was diagnosed in the mid-80s with cataracts, a condition in which the lens of the eye becomes opaque, causing partial or total blindness. By 1986, his vision had gotten so bad he could no longer operate his gillnetter Three Sons.

He stopped going to the doctor after being told there was nothing that could be done to improve his vision. Two weeks after regaining sight, he has yet to see a doctor.

"I was thinking I wanted to go to Whitehorse for a checkup," Stevens said, "but I don't want the doctor changing anything now. I got to watch my step."

Juneau ophthalmologist Dr. Gordon Preecs called a description of Steven's experience "pretty extraordinary." Preecs said cataracts normally get gradually worse, not better, as a person ages.

"Older people have a number of assaults on their eyes," Preecs said. "If you had cataracts, I'd tell you that it's not going to get better."

Local physician Dr. Len Feldman said although he had not heard of Stevens' case, he has seen remarkable recoveries during his career.

"I can't comment on George," Feldman said, "but I have seen what I would call miracles, people recovering from things they'd never recover from. I've been absolutely amazed by things we can't easily explain."

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