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Utah Woman is 'Blind No More'

Utah Woman is 'Blind No More'

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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Ed Yeates Reporting A 35-year-old woman who was born blind can see tonight, thanks to a remarkable surgery performed in Utah.

Though Kristen O'Neil had been told it couldn't be done, she now is blind no more. Ed Yeates shows us more in tonight's special report.

Kristen O'Neil's blindness would have looked something like this: Even in full light, a person in front of her would appear as a moving sheet of nothing.

Ophthalmologist Dr. Alan Crandall describes it this way:

Alan Crandall, M.D., Ophthalmologist: "Just one sheet. No distinguishing factors. [She] couldn't tell where your coat ended, your tie started, none of it. It would all be gone."

But at the State Health Department cafeteria where she works with her husband, who is also blind, Kristen now moves about. She is no longer blind!

"I was told by doctors all my life that they couldn't fix it."

Fix what? Kristen was born with extremely small eyes. A section of her iris was missing, and what was there was dislocated, so light couldn't go through the center of her pupil.

Part of her retina was missing, from the front all the way to back of the eye. The eye lens was dislocated. She was also born with cataracts, complicated by the size of her eyes. By the time she was 14, they resembled those of an 80-year-old.

Though impossible 10 years ago, Kristen's eyes now have literally been rebuilt!

"I was able to see the mountains for the first time. See across a field, and see buildings across there. That was really cool."

Kristen O'Neil: "Being able to interact with people and be able to look at them face-to-face and eye-to-eye and have a conversation with them is really great."

At the Eye Institute of Utah, Dr. Alan Crandall removed the cataracts. Then he began reshaping things. He made Kristen a new iris by implanting an artificial plastic iris right into her eye sac. Specially designed lenses were also implanted to make up for the abnormally small eye. Both of Kristen's eyes were rebuilt.

Dr. Crandall: "She should not lose what she has now. She should just continue to improve over time."

At home Kristen reads comfortably to her kids, a simple pleasure she savors now. And for her son...

"Being able to read his music and teach him how to read music was probably the best, and interacting with the kids."

Jim O'Neil, Kristen's Husband: "I'm just glad Dr. Crandall could help at least one of us. I was a little bit worried at first because I've been through a lot of eye surgeries and none have worked out for me."

But Jim O'Neil says the surgical magic came through for his wife, with colors, hues, and detail.

"Being able to ride my bike, take my kids for rides and stuff with me."

Dr. Crandall: "The fact that she can ride a bike is pretty amazing. To me, that's amazing."

Kristen's vision is not perfect, but it's good. Blind she is no more. With her delightful sense of humor she says, "It was really, I guess you would say, eye opening."

The Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired paid for Kristen's remarkable surgery through its rehab program.

For more information, read Lois Collins' story in tomorrow's Deseret Morning News and check the link above.

Utah Services for the Blind: 323-4343 or toll free 1-800-284-1823

Eye Institute of Utah: 266-2283

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