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Teen overcomes blindness and autism with music

Kathy Aney

East Oregonian

Published on December 12, 2017 7:30PM

Last changed on December 13, 2017 1:39PM

Internet sensation Christopher Duffley sings an original number called “Keep On” during the annual Christmas party for Community Counseling Solutions on Tuesday in Heppner.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Internet sensation Christopher Duffley sings an original number called “Keep On” during the annual Christmas party for Community Counseling Solutions on Tuesday in Heppner.

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Guests at Community Counseling Solutions Christmas party received a braille wristband that reads “love” after a performance by Christopher Duffley on Tuesday in Heppner. Duffley is both blind and autistic.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Guests at Community Counseling Solutions Christmas party received a braille wristband that reads “love” after a performance by Christopher Duffley on Tuesday in Heppner. Duffley is both blind and autistic.

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Christopher Duffley performs during the Community Counseling Solutions Christmas party on Tuesday in Heppner. In addition to performing music, Duffley also hosts his own podcast called Mission Possible.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Christopher Duffley performs during the Community Counseling Solutions Christmas party on Tuesday in Heppner. In addition to performing music, Duffley also hosts his own podcast called Mission Possible.

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Kimberly Lindsay introduces Christopher Duffley at the annual Christmas party for Community Counseling Solutions on Tuesday in Heppner. Lindsay saw a viral video of Duffley while on Facebook and worked for nine months to get him to perform for the party.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Kimberly Lindsay introduces Christopher Duffley at the annual Christmas party for Community Counseling Solutions on Tuesday in Heppner. Lindsay saw a viral video of Duffley while on Facebook and worked for nine months to get him to perform for the party.

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One day last December, Kimberly Lindsay mindlessly browsed her Facebook feed before clicking on a YouTube video. She sat back and watched.

A 10-year-old boy named Christopher Duffley sang “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” As the Heppner woman watched, she felt intensely moved by the boy’s sweet voice.

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

Open the eyes of my heart

I want to see you

I want to see you”

Lindsay learned Christopher’s story. At birth, he weighed less than two pounds and had cocaine in his system. He was blind and autistic. His aunt and uncle, Christine and Steve Duffley, adopted the baby from foster care after a lot of prayer. He learned to sing before he could carry on a conversation. A music therapist used music as a way to help him communicate, discovering the first day that Christopher had perfect pitch.

A video of Christopher singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart” at the Capitol Center for the Performing Arts in Concord, New Hampshire, got more than 2.4 million views on YouTube. Since then, he has sung the national anthem at Fenway Park and NASCAR races and has recorded three CDs. He is now 16.

Lindsay couldn’t get the song and the boy out of her mind for weeks.

“I could not stop thinking about Christopher and that song,” Lindsay said. “One day driving to Portland, it came to me — I needed to ask Christopher to come to Heppner.”

She was astonished when Christopher and his mom/manager Christine accepted her invitation. Last weekend, Christopher, Christine, Steve and friend David St. Germaine flew from their hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire, and drove several hours to Heppner. The others described the Columbia River, the rolling wheat fields and other terrain to Christopher as the miles slid by. In Eastern Oregon, Christopher was scheduled to perform twice in Heppner and once in Condon and also visit local schools.

On Tuesday morning, he was in full preparation mode at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church where he would perform at a Christmas party for about 150 employees of Community Counseling Solutions, where Lindsay is executive director. In the ready room, Christopher kept up a banter as Steve put a festive Christmas bow tie around his son’s neck and helped him don a jacket. He polished one of Christopher’s prosthetic eyeballs after Chris complained of irritation.

Christine gave her son an adoring look and described Christopher as someone who rises above life’s hurdles with pure, unfiltered joy and tenacity. His musical talent emerged early on, she said. “He showed signs of loving music from the time I picked him up,” she said. “Pat-a-Cake was his first song.”

After an introduction by Lindsay, Christopher took the stage, settling himself behind a keyboard and microphone. He described his shaky start to life.

“Instead of 40 weeks, I came out at 26 weeks,” he said. “I was also born with cocaine in my system to parents who loved me but could not take care of me. I was given oxygen for 100 days. My eyes didn’t develop properly and my retinas detached.”

He called attention to his “fake blue eyes.”

“They make me look normal and handsome,” he quipped.

Before singing his signature song, “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” he described the way he sees the world.

“My blindness does not limit me, I just do things differently,” he said. “It enables me to see people as they really are. I see no color, tattoos or crazy hairdos. It bothers me that people prejudge each other. How different would it be if everyone chose to see with their hearts?”

Christopher delivers this message often as he travels around, speaking and singing. He also produces his own podcast, “Mission Possible.”

Christopher launched into “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” playing the keyboard and singing in clear, strong tones. In past months, he has performed the song in five different languages: English, Spanish, French, Korean and Portuguese.

During the Christmas party, the teen sang three additional songs, one of them an original.

Two nights earlier, he performed for the community at Heppner High School. During the evening, Lindsay told the story of Ken Griswold, a 47-year-old veteran from San Antonio, Texas, who has struggled with effects of combat, divorce and other trials. He Facebooked Christopher to say he had found immense comfort in Christopher’s singing, adding, “Someday I would love to meet you to say thank you and give you one of the biggest hugs of your life.”

Lindsay then introduced Griswold, who had traveled to Heppner at her invitation. The veteran walked to Christopher and gave him the long-awaited bearhug.

During both of the performances, Lindsay faded back into the audience when she could and just watched and listened. When Christopher finished on Tuesday, he found Lindsay and give her an extended hug that rivaled that of Griswold.

Lindsay later marveled at Christopher’s impact on the people who heard him. She got a rush of comments about how he inspired them to see disabilities differently and keep moving forward with joy despite tough circumstances.

“For me, it’s about the potential of every human being, about not giving up on those who are the most vulnerable, of respecting differences and even being thankful for them,” Lindsay said. “God is good.”

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or 941-966-0810.






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