Since the age of 13, Dave Burdeniuk knew he would one day lose his sight. Now at 52, his world is rapidly turning black.
Burdeniuk, director of media relations at SaskEnergy, has retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic, degenerative eye disease.
At best, he can decipher light and dark, blobs of colour and shapes. Full blindness is looming.
“I’ve lost the ability to see down a hallway, to go to the kitchen to get lunch, to head to the washroom, to get to a meeting room, all those things are disappearing fast, I can’t see the glass doors,” Burdeniuk explained. “It’s nothing but this boiling grey fog, there’s absolutely nothing there.”
Burdeniuk admits it is not easy living on the cusp of permanent darkness.
“I describe it as your worst nightmare time machine because you do not glimpses everyday as to what your future is going to be like,” Burdeniuk said. “Any chance that you’ve got to turn back that clock you take, any piece of technology, hardware or software that can give you your sight back, you go for it.”
And went for it he did with e-Sight, a new technology that is giving him a computerized view of the world and buying him some much wanted time.
Best described as a camera that captures what the person is seeing, it is then enhanced and projected on to screens in front of the user’s eyes, all in real time.
Unclear whether it would even work for his particular disease, Burdeniuk traveled with his wife to the clinic in Toronto.
“I started with the eye chart and I nailed 20/100 line, then I hit 20/80, then I read 20/60, 20/40, 20/25 and I hit three of the five characters in 20/20,” Burdeniuk recalled. “And I cried, my wife cried and the technician cried, then the technician took me to a window and asked, ‘Tell me what you see,’ and we’re on the sixth floor of this building in Toronto and I read the sign in the parkade across the street.”
Similar to what you would expect in the virtual reality world, the black glasses wrap around Burdeniuk’s head and are linked to a small controller. They are portable and customizable and he said they have given him hope.
Burdeniuk’s colleagues have been very supportive and there have even been some jokes around the office.
“It does look like the one guy off Star Trek. I say I kind of look like a cyborg, but because I’m Ukrainian I just call it cy-borscht,” Burdeniuk joked.
E-Sight is not cheap. The first version of the glasses came in the $20,000 range, but the newest version that Burdeniuk sports is less expensive at $13,500.
But he calls the technology priceless, giving him a glimpse back into a world he once knew.
“I’m looking at picture frames and seeing the pictures, I go to the stove and can see the stove dials, I can make myself microwaveable popcorn,” Burdeniuk explained. “It has given me back things that were lost. I can see a rainbow, I can watch lightning. Those ordinary things have become possible. I can look into my soulmate’s eyes.”
Eventually, Burdeniuk’s world will go black, but e-Sight is buying him time.
“When our youngest daughter is married, maybe I can walk her down the aisle and see, maybe I will be able to see a grandchild, maybe I will be able to see the first picture that’s drawn, pull them in a wagon, see their training wheels come off or push them on a swing,” Burdeniuk said hopefully.