May 26, 2011 in Washington Voices

Vision loss hasn’t kept Liberty senior from basketball court

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Tyler Wilson of Liberty High School is the notable graduate from his school. He has severely impaired vision and intends to go to Eastern Washington University.
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Tyler Wilson is a normal teenager. He likes to watch movies. He is on the Liberty High School basketball and football teams. He does his homework and maintains good grades.

About the only thing Wilson doesn’t do is drive. That’s because he is legally blind.

Wilson first noticed something was wrong in the spring of his eighth-grade year. He was playing baseball, the same as he had done since he was very young, and noticed that he couldn’t see the ball well.

Several trips to various doctors later, he had a diagnosis. He had Stargardt’s disease, a rare form of severe macular dystrophy in children that causes the loss of sight.

“I was very upset at first,” said Wilson, who will graduate this year.

Upset is probably putting it mildly, but Wilson has not let that stop him. He is now legally blind and his central vision is essentially gone.

“I use my peripheral vision a lot,” he said.

He carries a magnifier in his wallet. He can read a book if he holds it up in front of his face. He surfs the Web by magnifying the text on his big screen monitor.

“I enlarge things a lot,” he said. “I have really great friends. They’ve been my seeing eye dogs in a way.”

But while Wilson was forced to give up baseball, he is still able to play football and basketball. The balls are big enough to see, and he has played basketball so long he knows where his shot should go.

“I see the back of the rim a little bit,” he said.

Amazingly, Wilson said he has played with people who did not notice his disability. This year Liberty High School got a new basketball coach. Wilson played several games before some parents told his coach about his sight impairment.

“People don’t know I’m legally blind unless I tell them,” he said.

The way he has dealt with his blindness while still maintaining good grades has impressed Liberty High School Principal Aaron Fletcher.

“He’s kind of been an example of perseverance and hard work,” he said. “You would not know there was anything wrong.”

Though he is determined to make the most of what he has, Wilson knows that there is no cure for his disease. He takes 15 vitamins a day and wears sunglasses outside to shield his eyes from further damage.

Still, Wilson is also monitoring promising stem cell research under way that may someday provide a treatment.

“You hope, but if it doesn’t happen it doesn’t happen,” he said. “I might as well make the best of it and do what I can still do.”

Next year he will attend Eastern Washington University and study recreation management. He plans to live at home for the first few months, then live near campus with friends. Until then he will be a normal teenager, watching movies with his friends, playing golf with a spotter to keep track of his ball, hitting baseballs in a batting cage.

Despite his tough journey, Wilson insists he really hasn’t changed much.

“I still see myself as the same guy,” he said. “I’m a little more of a relaxed person. I’m grateful that I have the vision that I do. I just take each day as a blessing and go with it.”


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