By Beth Lawrence
Despite losing most of his sight in his early 20s, Trevor Gates was fortunate to purchase, through crowdfunding, a device that restored his independence. Now he wants to pay it forward.
Gates, a 25-year-old Western Carolina University psychology student, has suffered impaired vision from underdeveloped optic nerves and a traumatic brain injury his entire life.
“My vision deteriorated pretty rapidly after I got out of my teens,” Gates said. “It wouldn’t have taken my vision to the point that I’m cane-dependent and severely vision impaired until my late 50s, 60s. But they said the damage to my already underdeveloped optic nerve sped that up.”
Gates’ friends and family in Jackson County and nationwide stepped up to help him purchase equipment that restored most of his sight and reestablished his independence.
“Twice in a row, my community, my network have come together to help me raise a significant amount of money for this very helpful and life-changing technology,” he said.
Both times his goal was met with hundreds of small donations for $5 to $20 and some for hundreds of dollars.
Gates was declared legally blind at 22 with his sight worsening to the point he required a cane to find his way.
Gates believes he should have begun using a cane earlier, but he worried about being stigmatized. Without a cane and other assistance, Gates’ physical health was jeopardized from accidents trying to find his way around. His grades while working toward two degrees at Southwestern Community College also suffered.
“I went to the eye doctor, and they told me that my vision was actively deteriorating,” he said. “I needed to find resources to get a cane. It was a massive change for me.”
Gates worried he would fall into a depression. He considers himself lucky to have already had a support network in place.
“I really took off after that,” he said. “I took off being able to ask for help so I could have resources. I became pretty much an expert in assistive technology.”
One assistive device Gates found was eSight glasses.
The device is two small screens connected to high-resolution cameras that send enhanced video to the brain in a format the brain can process in real time. They work with whatever vision the wearer has left.
A friend mentioned the glasses to him, but Gates could not afford the $15,000 device.
“My poor self was like, ‘Ha! Yeah, in my dreams,’” he said. “I didn’t even bother to get the name of them.”
Years later, Gates met Dr. Mary Sedgwick, an Asheville obstetrician, who used the device.
“At first I was so skeptical,” he said. “I had tried so much. I had gone through all the options at that point. There was no saving me in my mind.”
Sedgwick brought a pair for Gates to try.
“It was mind-blowing,” he said. “I could see not only her clearly, I could see across the room. I could see a mountaintop. They were incredible.”
By then, the price had fallen to $10,000. Gates still could not afford them, but fund-raising helped him buy a pair.
With the device, Gates’ grades improved and he no longer required as much assistance. He began to travel and speak on challenges the visually impaired face.
This year Gates wanted and needed the upgrade. He held a Facebook fundraiser, and his support network again pitched in.
“I didn’t think it was possible because I’d already asked them just a year or two prior to help me out with a huge bill,” Gates said.
Gates’ former choir and band teacher, Bob Reid, spread the word helping to raise approximately $6,000 in two months. Reid was responsible for spurring as much as $3,000 in donations.
The new glasses are an improvement.
“I can wear these all day, the last ones I couldn’t,” Gates said. “These are more comfortable, more powerful and more easily controlled with a different design. The other ones used to cause eye fatigue.”
Gates wants to share his good fortune by donating his old device.
“The eSight 3 is still an amazing piece of assistive technology,” he said. “This has been just an absolute game changer. These … gave me back a part of life that I thought was ripped away from me forever; I’d love to give that to someone else.”
For information on Gate’s eSight 3 glasses, email email@example.com.