In March 2003, Wayne Thomas retired after 40 years at Harris Bank, where he was a senior manager. After cataract surgery in October 2008, he recognized that his left eye was having a problem. He went back to his ophthalmologist and was diagnosed with wet macular degeneration. His first visit with a retinal specialist was mentally painful. He left the office with the understanding that he would develop macular degeneration in both eyes, and eventually become legally blind.
How did you feel when you were first told you had permanent vision loss?
“I am a strong person. This was the first time in my life I couldn’t handle it.”
In 2010, my right eye hemorrhaged. They had to detach the retina, remove the blood and reattach it. Over the next nine months, I had three more surgeries. For two of the three surgeries, I had to be face down for two weeks. In the end, the doctor had to laser my retina down so I wouldn’t lose my eye. It was at that point I hit rock bottom. I was in a dark place.
I actually suffered a physical reaction. I ended up in the emergency room because I thought I was having a heart attack.
What did you grieve the most?
It was hard to give up driving. I had to ask people to take me wherever I wanted to go. The lack of freedom was difficult. Every Thursday 18 guys from my church get together for lunch. We call ourselves ROMEOS, which stands for retired old men eating out. At first, it was hard to ask someone to come and pick me up. I used to be the guy who picked up everyone else! But I have good friends. They don’t mind coming to get me.
Did anyone give you any hope?
There’s no easy way to tell someone they are going to lose their vision. I am not critical of my doctors, they are fabulous doctors, but neither my ophthalmologist nor my retinal specialist gave me the slightest bit of hope. They had no recommendations on next steps or who I could talk to.
How did you end up at Spectrios?
I started seeing a counselor. It was very expensive, and not helpful. He had no experience with vision issues and didn’t understand the things I was faced with. After a few visits, I stopped going. At that point I floundered. I didn’t know where to turn. My brother-in-law’s law partner was serving on the Board of Directors at Spectrios during that time. He was the one who suggested I make an appointment.
What was different about Spectrios?
Dr. Williams gave me my first low vision exam. He was the person who really took the time to explain what wet macular degeneration was. I was happy because I had finally found a group of professionals in an organization who offered a variety of services for people with vision loss. I couldn’t believe there were people on staff who had vision worse than mine—and they were accomplishing so much!
“All I had to do was look around and I could see my vision loss wasn’t the end of the world.”
What services and devices helped the most?
I wish I had known about Spectrios counseling services. Boy that would have helped! Having an occupational therapist come out to my house to set up my home office was right on the money. I didn’t know there was anybody who could do that!
Before Spectrios, I had no idea what a CCTV was. It is my “go-to” device. I keep it on most of the day. With my handheld magnifier and a flashlight, I can do about 80% of the things that need to be done around the house. I also use a pair of binoculars to see things at a distance. My iPhone is set to use voice-over for texting and calling and I use my Orcam to read. With all of these different tools, I don’t feel limited much at all.
What are you still able to do that would surprise people?
Believe it or not, I still play golf. I can see the ball, and after years of play, my swing is automatic. The only trouble is, I can’t see where the ball goes. I have a good friend who acts as a spotter. With one eye that sees 20/200, I can shoot a better score than 70% of the golfers in this country. I also still enjoy fishing. My guide strings my rod and changes lures for me, but other than that I’m good to go. There’s no reason to give up the things you enjoyed before you had vision loss. You just need to find ways to work around your limitations.
What would you tell seniors who are afraid of technology?
I would suggest that rather than saying they can’t learn it, they try it and use what they like. I try everything Spectrios has to offer. I have a list of 13 different tools, and some of them are simple to use. Technology is more than iPhones and iPads, its large button phones, handheld magnifiers and good lighting. Low tech items are equally important.
“I would also tell them, “Don’t wait!” Embrace technology early, when your vision is still good. Take advantage of the training Spectrios offers.”
Why should people support Spectrios Institute’s mission and programs?
I recommend supporting Spectrios because of the professionals who work there. They clearly understand the complex issues of people with vision loss. I would add that patients of Spectrios need to educate their doctors. I have an appointment with my doctor later today. I plan to bring my Orcam to show him what it is and what it can do for someone with vision loss.
Wayne’s Toolbox of Technology
All of the items listed below are items in Wayne’s home office that have improved his quality of life.
- CCTV (pictured below)
- Lighted, Hand Held Magnifier
- Computer with Large Monitor
- Large Screen TV
- Large Button Phone
- Talking Clock
- Amazon Echo
- Ott Lite
- Small Flashlight
- Orcam MyEye2