Matt Eshelman, Winchester, Va.
I was diagnosed with Stargardts around the age of 13, I was a freshman in high school turning to cope with the thought of losing my sight. Earlier in life I wore glasses and was told by a military eye physician that I would be totally blind by the age of 18. That’s pretty tough for an 11 year old to hear. So my Mother began looking for other options. We went to Wills Eye Institute where they diagnosed me with Stargardts and referred me to a Dr. Gorin at NIH.
I remember the day I found out about Stargardts and what the possible out come would be. When my Mom and I got home I got on my bike, went to the store, bought a pack of Marlboros and went down to the woods by a friend’s house that had a trail with a little bridge and a small creek. I sat there for hours, crying and smoking that whole pack of cigarettes. Yeah that was the answer. School became less important because everything I wanted to do in life was now out of the question. I wanted to be a pilot or maybe even an astronaut. Now I thought I could do nothing. All I cared about was having as much fun as I could. I started getting in trouble with teachers, who didn’t understand or want to help me with my vision problem. Grades kept falling and I barely passed each grade. College wasn’t even a thought for me. I graduated on time surprisingly and that started a whole different turn of events.
17 years old, out of school and wondering what to do with my life. By now I was able to deal with my vision. I got my drivers license, which was a HUGH accomplishment for me and I was free to hit the road. I had a lot of friends who helped me get through some hard times by making me forget about my problem. During this point in my life I had no fears of anything. I lost my father when I was 18 months old and then I found out eventually I wouldn’t be able to see. Why should I worry about the outcome of anything. So I drove like an idiot, fast and crazy, and just took stupid risks. I worked construction here and there, and worked part time at an information desk during the evening in a local hospital – then went out all night.
Eventually I met my wife. I was 20 at the time, she was 24 and established in a career of her own. Her family lived in Wisconsin and she was here by herself and pretty set in her ways. Basically she told me if there was ever going to be anything with us I needed to get my act together. Although I was a lot of fun to be around, I wasn’t much of a future prospect. So I enrolled at Computer Learning Center to learn how to fix computers. I figured I liked working with my hands, how hard could it be. I actually paid attention and the instructors were great in working with me and my vision problems. Having no interest in computers going in, I actually did pretty well. I graduated, started looking for jobs and once again ran into another bump in the road.
It was tough finding work because when people would find out about my eyes, somehow they’d find excuses not to hire me or would come right out and say that my eyes were an issue. Finally one company gave me a chance. I was finally had a purpose and cared about what I was doing. I’ve moved on to a different company now where I run the service department of a growing technology company. Thanks to my wife pushing me back when we first met she saved me from going down the wrong road and doing something with my life. Now we have a beautiful little girl and great house and things are going well. Recently my eyes have gotten worse and I’m going to have to give up driving. I thought I would have a problem with this and warned my wife of how I was when I found out I had Stargardts. But, so far, it hasn’t been bad.
I want to help others cope with this disorder and show them it’s not so bad. I had a rough time because there wasn’t much out there for help and I was angry and stubborn. Please feel free to email me anytime.