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With rare disorder, Pendleton man looks for a new lease on sight

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on January 5, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on January 5, 2018 9:47PM

Nick Ballard of Pendleton was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a degenerative eye disease, when he was in his teens and has been slowly loosing his sight over time.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Nick Ballard of Pendleton was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a degenerative eye disease, when he was in his teens and has been slowly loosing his sight over time.

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Bethany Parker-Ballard has begun a fundraising effort for her husband, Nick Ballard, who suffers from the degenerative eye disorder Stargardt disease. She is hoping to raise the $10,000 necessary to purchase a pair of eSight glasses that would give her husband the ability to see again.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Bethany Parker-Ballard has begun a fundraising effort for her husband, Nick Ballard, who suffers from the degenerative eye disorder Stargardt disease. She is hoping to raise the $10,000 necessary to purchase a pair of eSight glasses that would give her husband the ability to see again.

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Nick Ballard was fitted with his first pair of glasses in second grade, but his eyesight was all downhill from there.

It would be years before he would be diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a rare disorder that heavily deteriorated his vision to the point that he’s now legally blind.

With the curtains drawn in their Pendleton home to help protect Nick’s vision, his wife, Bethany Parker-Ballard, played a video that showed the effect of Stargardt. As an eye researcher spoke to the camera, his face was blurred to show the early effects of the disorder while the peripherals around him remained clear. As the conditioned worsened, the researcher’s face become a black spot.

After the first video finished, she played a second video. This time, smiling people strapped on a piece of equipment that resembled a virtual reality headset as a narrator promised that it could reverse the effects of blindness.

Bethany believes this equipment, called eSight, can restore her husband’s vision. She is mounting a fundraising campaign for the $10,000 to purchase it.

Nick was diagnosed with Stargardt disease when he was 15-years-old and on a trip to visit his father in Texas. In the midst of learning to drive, he struggled to operate his dad’s Ford Bronco, spurring his father to take him to the optometrist.

He was referred to a specialist in Dallas, who told him that he had Stargardt. Nick realized he would never be able to drive again.

“It’s pretty unnerving,” he said.

Growing up in Port Orchard, Washington, Nick had always struggled in school, a fact that he attributed to being a “noxious prick” as much as his poor vision. But when he went to the Washington School for the Blind in Vancouver, he became an A and B student.

He returned to public school and graduated before bouncing around between Bremerton, Wash., and Portland.

Nick moved to Pendleton in 2010 to attend Blue Mountain Community College, where he met Bethany, a late bloomer who was attending college for the first time at 39.

Graduating with a degree in multi-disciplinary studies, he stayed on at BMCC to work as a tutor and married Bethany. She teared up as she recalled how Nick wasn’t able to fully see her on their wedding day.

“When you get married, you don’t want to be oblivious to the hard times, but you don’t really think of them,” she said.

Hard times would come for the Ballards in 2015, when Nick was laid off from BMCC and they lost their house.

With his condition, Nick struggled to find new work until he was hired by the Eastern Oregon Alcoholism Foundation.

A “detox technician,” Nick described his position as a combination den mother/housekeeper with some work with computers thrown in.

Despite Nick’s new job, the couple still considers themselves low income. Bethany wants to go back to school to get her bachelor’s degree in hospitality management.

They rely on food stamps to help buy the groceries and the $10,000 eSight glasses aren’t covered by any kind of insurance.

Bethany started a crowdfunding account at www.gofundme.com/esight-fund and is also looking to open a donation account and do a fundraiser at a local restaurant.

The eSight glasses work by using high definition cameras and LED screens to provide users with enhanced vision with virtually no lag.

Bethany envisions Nick being able to mow the lawn and other mundane tasks the seeing take for granted. And maybe one day, with the aid of eSight glasses, he could even drive a car.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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