Helping a child see for the first time

Published: Jun. 8, 2018 at 6:37 PM EDT
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A local girl is just weeks away from getting a new pair of eyes... digitally.

News 10's Alani Letang talked with the girl and her mother today about the technology that's going to help a blind girl see for the first time.

"Her ears are like everything," mother Alexis Woodard told News 10's Alani Letang. It's her ears and her arms are what five-year-old Katalaya Vance uses to get around and play.

She was born with a condition called Optic Nerve Hypoplasia. That nerve is responsible for transmitting images from the eye to the brain, and Katalaya's is underdeveloped -- leaving her unable to see.

"I think I cried a lot in the beginning but you get used to it after a while, once I saw how independent she was and didn't really need help," said Woodard.

Katalaya was diagnosed at five months old.

"She went from, I would say her name and she would look right at to me to just looking around, I could see her in her swing and her eyes would just wonder, and one day my mom put her up to the light and she didn't flinch or close her eyes or anything so that's when we figured something wasn't right," said Woodard.

Her mom started doing research and found "eSight" a company that makes high tech glasses for the legally blind.

She was too young to use them at the time. Katalaya was around 1 or 2 years old and the company told them she must be around 4 or 5 years old to qualify.

"I just told myself I wouldn't forget about it," Woodard told Letang.

But eSight recently let her mom know she'll be a part of a fundraiser to pay for the glasses.

When Katalaya was able to try on a pair, her mother said she immediately recognized a few colors, from a book.

"Off the bat, she told us the first two colors on the page which were orange and brown, they were the main colors on there," said Woodard.

The company doesn't release many details about how it works.

The company told us, "eSight is worn like a normal pair of glasses. It houses a high-speed, high-definition camera that captures everything the wearer is looking at. Advanced, medically-validated algorithms optimize and enhance the footage; the footage is then presented on two, near-to-eye screens, in virtually real time and in stunning clarity eSight's ability to tilt up and down allows the wearer to always have access to their native peripheral vision. This enables true mobility. eSight's remote allows visually impaired wearers to control everything - zoom (up to 24 times), contrast, focus, even taking photos and streaming content directly to their eSight."

But the limited information is not a concern for Alexis and her daughter.

"She'll be happier to know that the things she's interested are visual and not just sound," said Woodard.

eSight glasses cost around $10,000 and not all insurance plans cover them. Patients who can't afford them are put into a random drawing to determine who is part of the fundraising, according to the company. Katalaya is one of 13 people chosen.

The children will get their glasses once a GoFundMe account has raised $130,000. Currently, it's at $65,000.

eSight has set a goal of father's day to get the full amount.

But it will keep the account open as long as necessary.