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What My Prosthetic Eye Helped Me See About Being Different

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As a child, I was extremely aware of the fact that I was, well… different. I was 3 months old when the doctors diagnosed me as having micropthalmia with blindness. Micropthalmia literally means “small eye.”  In my case, my left eye was smaller than the right. Along with this, the optic nerve that branches out from the brain failed to properly form to my left eye. My mother, a nurse, knew early on that something was different. If she entered my room to wake me in the morning, she would have to sing or talk to me so she wouldn’t startle me.

When I was 5 years old, I underwent what I thought was the most traumatic experience of my life. My parents took me to our ophthalmologist, who inserted a cold object that fit like a large, thick contact lens over my left eye. This was an eye prosthetic known as a scleral shell. Five-year-old me thought the eye prosthesis would magically fix what wasn’t right and I would be able to see out of both eyes like other kids. I was horribly disappointed.

My first eye prosthesis was a manufactured one that seemed only to exacerbate my feelings of being different. I eventually outgrew it, and it would be years before my parents and I learned that patients like me would need to replace an eye prosthesis every five years until I was finished growing. To make matters worse, the iris of this eye prosthetic didn’t match the color of my right iris, making it look as if I had one smaller, different-colored eye. I was the target of brutal bullying for years.

Eventually, we met a doctor in the D.C. metro area who was an ocularist. I read an article about him in a newspaper, and my parents and I were so impressed that we made an appointment to see him. An ocularist is someone with a special knowledge of eyes and eye shape, and the bone structures of the face. They also have an artistic background, so they understand color. Instead of a manufactured eye, I got a custom-made prosthetic that matched the other eye and fit much better. It boosted my confidence immensely.

Over the years I have had quite a few eye prosthetics, and I have found means of coping with the feeling of being different from others. I have realized that we are all different, and there really is no such thing as normal. I also learned about the healing power of humor. They say laughter is the best medicine, and for me that was true. I have a knack for jokes and sarcasm, so once I started making people laugh with me instead of at me, it broke down many of the invisible barriers that had once kept me isolated. I learned to turn a blind eye (get it?) to negativity and to keep an eye on the positive things in life (pun intended.)

I try to help others see that it’s OK to be different, and I welcome questions about my eye prosthetic and being blind in one eye. By being open and honest and accepting myself, I am hopefully allowing for others to be more open as well. Knowledge is power.

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Originally published: November 23, 2016
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