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The delivery of sight

Tina Leonard sees faces for the first time in 5 years

June 1, 2018
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Tina Leonard's new eSight electronic glasses came in the mail last week, and for the first time in five years, she saw faces.

That was her biggest wish. Not to drive a car or watch television, but to see people again. And what she saw at the Rotary Club of Lake Placid's Thursday, May 24 meeting surprised her.

Two days earlier, the $9,995 glasses were delivered to Leonard's McKinley Street home. Earlier in the month, her daughter, Daci, launched a crowd-funding campaign on the eSight website to raise the money, which she collected in only three days. Many of the people who donated are Rotary members and people she's known and worked with during an almost 30-year career in real estate.

Article Photos

Bob Hanna welcomes Tina Leonard to the weekly Rotary Club of Lake Placid meeting Thursday, May 24 at The Courtyard by Marriott. This was the first time she’s taken her new eSight electronic glasses to a Rotary meeting since receiving them in the mail earlier in the week.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

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How the glasses work

The maker, eSight, calls the glasses "Light on weight. Heavy on magic." They allow the visually impaired to see again. Leonard lost all the sight in her right eye and most of the sight in her left eye five years ago.

The glasses look like white plastic virtual reality goggles. They tilt up, giving an onlooker the ability to see the customized lenses underneath. In the front is a tiny high-speed, high-definition camera. On the user's side, the person wearing the glasses sees a video display of what the camera is capturing on two near-to-eye displays.

"Advanced, medically validated algorithms optimize and enhance the footage so that your eyes can truly see it, and in real-time," the company states on its website. "eSight's ability to tilt up and down allows you to always have access to your native peripheral vision. This enables true mobility."

The goggles are connected to a remote control by a thick, gray wire. The remote allows users to zoom in to see - up to 24 times magnification. When Leonard uses the remote, a female voice talks to her.

"It tells me what it's doing," she said.

She can even save images - for a few moments to read carefully or to save for later reference. The glasses have an SD memory card.

"See, I can go close, and then I can click this button on the side," she said. "It's called a freeze frame. And then you're frozen, and I can turn this way and still be looking at you. ... They say that's good for looking at a menu or when you're in an airport."

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Welcome to Rotary

Shortly after 7 a.m., Tina Leonard arrived at the Rotary Club's meeting room at The Courtyard by Marriott. Some members had already arrived, grabbing their breakfast at the buffet. Others were mingling and swapping stories before the meeting began at 7:20 a.m.

Wearing a light-green blazer over a black shirt, carrying her folding cane and a 24-ounce cup of decaf coffee, Leonard was greeted by Ernest Stretton, the former Lake Placid Central School superintendent. He gave her a kiss on the cheek. Then Bob Hanna came over to see her at the door. She checked in at the sign-up table and began looking for a seat.

"I've got to sit down and look at people," she said, sitting in front of the blue-and-gold Rotary Club banner.

Leonard was anxious and nervous. She hadn't slept very well the night before. She was like a child on Christmas morning, waiting to see what Santa Claus would bring. Only her presents were the faces she'd see at Rotary.

Leonard had only been trained on the eSight glasses the day before, bringing them along to Lisa G's restaurant that night for a test drive. She had mixed results.

"It was good for my table," she said. "I could see the people. We sat in the corner."

Yet Leonard had a hard time switching back and forth to people at her table and those at other tables. Auto focus was the culprit.

"If you are trying to look far away, it'll stop focusing on what's close to you," she said. "So that's one of the things that I have to get used to. I kept trying to look past that lady that was sitting next to me at the table."

It will take some time to master.

While testing the glasses at Rotary, Leonard said she normally can't see the people at her table.

"I can see people over there," she said. "Before, I couldn't even see tables over there."

One by one, Rotarians came over to see her. First it was Martha Spear, president of the club.

"Good morning, Tina," Spear said. "Can you see me?"

"I can," Leonard said.

"Oh my God, that's so great!"

"I can see you. You have blue on. And you have some gray hair, too, don't you?"

"It's all gray."

"I didn't know people had gray hair. That's too funny. I don't remember if I knew you when I could see. Did I know you more than five years ago?"

"I joined about five years ago."

This was the first time Leonard had seen the Rotary Club president in person.

She also had never seen two other people seated at her table: Debbie Erenstone and her 9-year-old daughter Holly, an honorary Rotary Club member.

"Now I see Holly," Leonard said. "I see you really close. And Holly has glasses on. Holly, what do you have on your shirt? Is that an Ironman shirt?"

"No, it's a NYSEF sweatshirt," Holly said.

"Holly, how old are you?"

"I'm turning 10 in June."

Then Leonard told Holly about what she did with the excess money - more than $1,000 - her friends and family raised to buy her eSight glasses.

"There's a little girl in Colorado that is trying to buy these glasses, and she's 9 years old. Her name is Emily." Leonard transferred her excess funds into Emily's account to help her buy her own set of eSight glasses.

"She was born blind, and she got a little bit of sight back when she was 2," she explained. "And now she's 9 years old, and she went and tried on these glasses. For the first time, she got to see her mother and father and they cried. And she said, 'Guess what? I got see see my brother, and he had a pimple on his nose.'"

Then it was time to look at Holly's mom.

"I had no idea your hair was like that," Leonard said. "Is your hair blond?"

"I just got it highlighted," Debbie said.

"Highlighted, and it's kind of a bob cut? Oh my God, I had no idea. It looks cute. ... Oh my God, this is so fun!"

"You noticed my haircut that my husband didn't even notice."

Seated to the left of Leonard was her driver, UPS Store co-owner Debbie McLean. Before the meeting started, Leonard looked at her and noticed the color of her hair.

"Do you want me to tell you you have gray hair?" Leonard asked.

"I know I have gray hair. You don't have to tell me," McLean said.

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Futuristic

When Tina Leonard explained about the SD card in the glasses, it reminded Debbie Erenstone of a 2004 movie she'd seen with Robin Williams: "The Final Cut."

"It takes place like 100 years in the future," Debbie said. "Everyone has a memory chip of their entire lives. So at their funeral, someone compiles the memorabilia of everything their eyes saw."

Williams played Alan Hakman, a "cutter," someone who had the power of final edit over people's recorded histories for their funerals, especially for unsavory people. He essentially edited out all the bad stuff and kept the good stuff.

The company that made the memory implants, EYE Tech, sold the concept as "immortality. ... The cherished moments of your life will now live on forever."

It was a dark film. Williams's character eventually sees something he shouldn't have seen in someone's memory bank, "a memory worth killing for."

That's not what Leonard's eSight glasses are about, but Debbie was able to see how the technology of science fiction is coming to life in today's world. Yet these futuristic glasses are not perfect. While some people have learned to walk with them, it's tricky.

"Because it's a camera, everything is distorted a little bit," Leonard said. "You probably would fall if you were totally looking through it to walk with."

Leonard even has the ability to share her sight with others.

"When I get better in a couple of weeks, I can even hook it onto a projector and show everybody and you can see exactly what I am seeing," she said.

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Happy Dollars

One of the ways Rotary raises money during their meetings is through Happy Dollars. Members go around the room and donate as many dollar bills as they have happy news items or thankful moments to share with the club. Leonard had three. She was thankful for the story about her in the May 18 issue of the Lake Placid News, and she told the group about her donation to Emily's eSight fund in Colorado. For her final Happy Dollar, she was thankful for the faces she'd seen at Rotary that day.

"This has been incredible sitting here and seeing some of you people. I didn't know what these people looked like," she said. "I get chills. I'm just in tears. ... You can't believe how amazing this is."

 
 

 

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