This past summer, Alex Russello went with his mom to try on eSight glasses for the first time. There’s a photo of the legally blind Guilford teen, diagnosed as a child with optic atrophy, viewing his world for the first time through the high-tech, electronic eyewear that gives vision to those who experience sight with extreme vision loss. The smile on Alex’s face in that photo confirms just how life-changing his own pair of eSight glasses would be.
In the ensuing months, family, friends and many members of the community began rallying to help Alex reach a needed goal of $15,000 to fund the life-changing tech. Through a fundraising effort set up at eSight for Kids (www.giving.esighteyewear.com/alexander-russello), donations continue adding up. Currently, the effort has helped Alex gather more than $8,600 in donations. Within just two weeks of finally hitting his $15,000 goal, Alex can be wearing his own Esight eyewear.
Alex, who turned 16 in November, says it would be a gift of the type of sight he never imagined he could enjoy at this point in his life.
“If you were to tell me a few years ago that there would be a hands-free way to see a whiteboard from my spot in the classroom, I would have thought you were crazy,” Alex says. “Not having to carry around a CCTV [closed-caption TV], and not needing to wheel around a cart everywhere I go, is something I would have never thought possible before was finished with school. I would have thought maybe when I’m 20 or 30, something might be around.”
People with vision of 20/200 or above are deemed legally blind. With 20/600 vision, Alex’s sight is limited to extreme close up. When he tested out eSight with a technician last summer, it was the first time he could look across a room and see the other side.
“The first time he tried them on, we were at the Guilford Library,” says Alex’s mom, Dawn. “He looked across the room and was able to see the librarian behind the circulation desk.”
“I was amazed at being able to see as far I could, and how clear I could see,” says Alex.
Alex viewed the world through eSight for about an hour that day. The eSight glasses, which look like a pair of extreme sports sunglasses, can adapt Alex’s current vision from 20/600 to a remarkable 20/80. Normal vision acuity is 20/20.
Growing up with a vision impairment didn’t stop Alex from succeeding academically. But eSight for Alex would mean doing away with his daily regime of working from a CCTV. At Guilford High School (GHS) the CCTV is carted around with Alex, from class to class, to allow him to view printed classroom materials and books on the video screen.
“The eSight glasses will give him that extra edge,” says Dawn. “And the freedom to do things outside the classroom, things that are more active and out in the community.”
eSight would also give Alex a chance to experience an unencumbered school day, free of CCTV, and the types of activities and events most GHS students may take for granted.
“It would be much less cumbersome for him in terms of moving from place to place,” says Dawn. “And right now, he can’t go to see the school’s theater performances and he can’t go to assemblies, because he can’t see what’s taking place. When he would go to his brother’s sporting events, he couldn’t see what was going on.”
Instead, Alex relied on a play-by-play description from his dad, Frank, at games where his brother, Nick (GHS Class of 2016) was on the field.
Despite his limited vision, Alex has inspired the GHS community. As a freshman, he followed Nick’s footsteps and joined the GHS football team. Alex started playing football in 8th grade at Adams Middle School, where he also took up cross country running. As a GHS freshman football player, Alex earned a starting spot as a lineman. This year, as a member of the JV squad, he also suited up for varsity games.
“I can play on the line because the guys I have to tackle are only a foot or two ahead of me,” Alex explains.
Alex is also a member of the GHS crew team. While he wouldn’t risk wearing his eSight eyewear in a football game or on the water, Alex says having the ability to enjoy much of his world with 20/80 vision would be amazing. Like most teens, he loves gaming and looks forward to the day when he can experience it alongside his friends, rather than from his customary spot up close to the screen.
Frankly, “I would no longer get the complaints of ‘Your head is in the way,’” Alex notes.
Dawn says the Russello family is grateful and inspired by the friends, community members, and even strangers helping Alex reach his Esight fundraising goal.
“Once his friends found about it, they really have embraced it, “says Dawn. “And so has the community, especially in terms of people hearing about it on social media and spreading the word.”
As of press time, Alex was 60 percent of the way toward his goal of $15,000. This week, he’s working with a grassroots group that wants to further publicize his fundraising effort and find other ways to generate donations. As part of the effort, donations will be collected on Alex's behalf from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21 in front of The Marketplace at Guilford Food Center, 77 Whitfield St.
“I thank all of you who donate for helping me,” says Alex. “I thank you for helping me attend, fully experience, and fit in better at events. I thank you for giving me the ability to see and identify people who are only as far away as across a classroom, but whom I’m not currently able to see.”