Western University nursing student wins ‘life-changing’ medical device to help her see

A first-year nursing student at Western University is sharing her emotional experience with eSight eyewear, a medical device that helps those with severe vision problems.

Emma Van Dyk has Kjers optic atrophy, a degenerative eye disorder where the optic nerve deteriorates and the eye stops sending messages to the brain. She was classified as legally blind about two years ago and describes the technology as life-changing.

“The first thing when I put them on was I looked outside and I could see my neighbours’ houses. I knew I wasn’t the only one living on my street but the eSight glasses really proved that I wasn’t the only one. I could see all the houses. And I didn’t know there were so many leaves. There was construction going on I didn’t even know about,” she said.

“It’s very emotional because it’s something I’ve never experienced before … and I’m really thankful for the glasses. They really help with any daily activity.”

Van Dyk was among five winners of a scholarship from Toronto-based eSight and CNIB, offering the electronic eyewear. The moment she was told she was among the winners was captured on video, above.

“I was tricking you a little bit,” the eSight representative said after telling her she was only a finalist and asking her a bit about why she was hoping to win.

“I actually did want to share that you are one of the five recipients.”

Van Dyk covered her face with her hands, exclaiming, “that’s amazing!”

Before using eSight, Van Dyk used an electronic magnifier from the company Prodigi which enlarged print through a Bluetooth camera and tablet but the technology wasn’t very portable and the screen only captured small portions at a time.

Speaking on The Morning Show with Devon Peacock after receiving the eSight device, Van Dyk said she uses it to watch television, read textbooks, and even to paint her nails.

“It’s really life-changing,” she said.

“You just put them on like normal glasses and then they have a strap that goes around the head. So they’re really, really lightweight. And they’re attached to a remote that you can hook onto the side. And yeah, it makes them really good to wear even walking. And if you’re wearing them for long periods of time, like studying, they are they’re really lightweight and comfortable.”

Van Dyk was diagnosed with Kjers optic atrophy at age six, though her parents suspected vision issues even earlier, especially since her father also has low vision.

She also met other people her age with vision issues when she took part in a summer camp held by CNIB about five years ago.

“It’s such a magical place. A bunch of families and youth with partial sight go and you just do a bunch of activities. There’s kayaking, tubing, arts and crafts. So basically just a normal summer camp. And that’s how I was introduced to CNIB,” she said.

“It is really nice and really comforting when you have other people you can relate to. The first time I did meet someone (with partial-sightedness), I realized I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t find their school bus, and the only one who couldn’t cross the street on their own.”

She adds that she wants to become a nurse so she can give back to others.

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