Michael S.
Fort Wayne, Indiana

Bests Disease

At the age of seven I was diagnosed with Bests disease. We knew my mother had the same disease; she had been legally blind from her teenage years. My mother had to quit school after the seventh grade, but she did marry and raised her family of three children; neither my brother nor my sister had signs of the disease. One of my three children has Best disease, my middle daughter, but the affect on her vision has been very minimal. Thankfully, none of my six grandchildren have signs of the disease.

My vision was never good, but I was able to go through high school, get into a trade, and earn a living. By trade I am a pipefitter. After completing a five-year apprenticeship and working several years in the trade, I took some classes, and worked my way into project management. I have managed the design and construction of food processing plants since the early 1980s. In my profession I do a lot of driving and traveling around the country.

Then in the year 2000 I found my vision had deteriorated such that I was not going to be able to drive. After several months of looking for other options it was determined that the only option was for me to quit working and take disability retirement. I was 50 years old. After eight months the insurance company sent me to Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation. The agency determined I could not be rehabilitated to the point where I could return to work and earn anything that would compare to what I had been earning in my profession. The agency did send me to a retinal specialist where I was diagnosed to not be treatable. The retinal specialist referred me to the Low Vision Center in Ft. Wayne. Doctor Laura Windsor introduced me to CCTV and other low vision aids. She also helped me enter into the bioptic driving program. After not driving for about a full year I regained an Indiana driver’s license and my life began to change.

I decided to enroll at a local college where I studied history and literature. With the help of low vision aids and setting in the front row of class I was able to maintain a 4.0 grade average. After four years of college I decided to go on a mission for my church to Santiago, Chile. I worked in the office part time and worked with local church leadership in a very poor section of Santiago. When I returned home I felt if I could do all of these things, I could return to work. I sent my application to a local mechanical contractor and was hired to help manage the construction of a bio-diesel manufacturing facility. After being successful at this, I felt I could return to my old job and be successful. I applied with my old employer and was hired to return to work doing what I have done as a career and what I love doing.

There have been risks; I removed myself from the possibility of receiving disability insurance protection for my eye disease. If my eyes get worse and I can’t work for ten years my Social Security benefit will be much lower. I have been hounded and investigated by Social Security. None of this compares to the great blessings that have taken place in my life:

  1. I am off the public dole and I am once again able to provide for my wife and myself.
  2. I am able to make a contribution to society instead of being a drain on it.
  3. I have regained my self-respect.
  4. I am able to learn, grow, and gain knowledge. In other words, to fulfill the purpose of life.
  5. I have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I think about and have gratitude in my heart everyday for these blessings. I owe these blessings in large part to Doctor Laura Windsor and to the bioptic driving program.