A 10-year-old Canadian boy's life changed last week thanks to a technological innovation straight out of a sci-fi movie. In a video shared by CBS News, the boy, who has a rare condition, uses $15,000 glasses to see his mom for the first time. Benny Francey, 10, and his brother Ashton, 8, both of Manitoba, Canada, have a rare condition called Leber congenital amaurosis that changes the way they see. The condition makes it so that even if they wear regular glasses, as many kids do, they can basically only see the silhouettes of the people and things around them. This means they've never really gotten a very good look at their home, their backyard, or their friends and family.
The condition is degenerative, meaning it gets worse over time. Usually children born with Leber congenital amaurosis have reduced eyesight at birth which gets worse as they grow up. They may have normal eye exams at first, but more thorough testing will reveal problems in the retina of the eye, the area that the condition affects. By adolescence, most people with Leber congenital amaurosis only have enough visual acuity (ability to make out details) to count fingers, make out generalized hand motions, or detect changes in light. Many are totally blind, but with the use of new therapeutic drugs, may be able to regain some of their sight.
Another novel treatment, called eSight, is the technology that gave Benny a chance to see the world. The company, based in Canada, is made up of designers and engineers who created the eyewear as an assistance device for people who have lost their vision for a variety of reasons. Of course, the glasses are very expensive.
Benny's family started a GoFundMe over the summer to raise the money for a pair of custom-made glasses, and last week the family went to Toronto so Benny could try them out at the company's clinic. The glasses work by using a small, high speed camera to capture everything that the user is looking at. The images are sent to a computer that processes each pixel and heightens them, sending them back to the small LED screens in the lenses for the user to see, according to eSight's website. For Benny, the glasses allowed him to immediately see the world more clearly than he ever had before. And he event got to see his mom.
Jenny Cason, Benny's mom, told CBS News her son's first word when he tried out the high tech specs was "Wow!" In the video captured at the clinic, when Benny sees his mom for the first time — in full detail — the technician asks if he can see more of his mom's face. He replies, with a giggle, "Yeah, like her big nose!" But as he continued to see the world anew for the first time, including being shown family pictures, his mom says it was "very emotional" for Benny, and he began to cry. “He could finally point out people in the family,” his aunt, Amanda Vitt, told CBS News. Vitt helped to set up the GoFundMe campaign earlier this year.
Benny's family was relieved that the glasses work for him — they don't always work for every patient — and his special pair will arrive sometime next month. Benny has read braille for most of his life and now, with his glasses, his family is hoping he will also be able to learn to read written word as well.
Benny's brother, Ashton, who has also been diagnosed with OCD and Autism, has eyesight so poor that the glasses weren't able to help him see better. But the family has left the GoFundMe page up, and any additional donations to the family will be used to help Ashton in other ways — like with therapeutic horseback riding.