Chandler Hunt and the gift of sight

Story and photos by CALLEN CRENSHAW

How would life be for a person who does not have use of one of their five senses? Can someone with that type of disability live a normal life?

Chandler Hunt is now a senior at the University of Utah.

Chandler Hunt is now a senior at the University of Utah.

From a very young age, Chandler Hunt learned how to do “normal” tasks without the use of one of these senses, his eyes. As a result, Chandler went about his day feeling and listening for social and emotional cues.

Chandler was diagnosed as legally blind at age 5. His father, Bill, had a really difficult time grasping the reality of his son’s disability. The formal term for this condition is called dislocated lenses. The lenses in Chandler’s eyes became more dislocated with time. The timeline for this process depends on the gene itself, which is hereditary.

Bill said that his side of the family produces this gene and every one of his siblings suffers from it. One positive aspect of his son’s diagnosis is the technology factor. “Technology never ceases to amaze me, because Chandler was diagnosed so young doctors have been able to start to reverse his eyesight,” Bill said.

However, he realizes that the condition has made his son learn everything in a different way, a more difficult way. As a father he said his son has been labeled as “different” since he lost his eyesight completely in high school.

Bill Hunt enjoys hiking in Cottonwood Canyon when he visits Chandler in Salt Lake City.

Bill Hunt enjoys hiking in Cottonwood Canyon when he visits Chandler in Salt Lake City.

Chandler spent his childhood participating in monthly doctor visits and adding what he recalled as “what felt like inches to my lenses.” With each of these visits the prescription in his glasses became stronger to the point where he eventually could only see through a small portion of his lenses. Bill said Chandler described the way he sees people as “little specks or dots with fuzziness attached to them.” This was concerning to him as a father.

The next big hurdle in Chandler’s life was his driving test. Although he struggled through school at Cornwall Central High School in California, he was able to get by with the help of many teachers, counselors and friends. But the driving test was something he had to accomplish on his own. He did not pass due to his eyesight. It was then that Bill realized his son needed to see the best surgeon and inquire about the latest technological advancement, LASIK eye surgery.

Chandler began physical therapy for his eyes and began preparing for what would total 19 surgeries. However, the breaking point happened when Chandler participated in a risky surgery that had a small chance of being successful in recovering his vision.

“I was completely against the surgery,” Bill said. In fact, he forbid Chandler to participate in it because it was so risky. “I didn’t think he understood the risk he was taking. If it didn’t work he would lose his eyesight completely, forever.”

This was a risk Chandler wanted to take. When he turned 18 he had the surgery.

He participated in a case study along with 12 other people. Out of that group, he was one of three who had a successful outcome. Although his recovery was two months, Chandler discovered that the surgery had reversed his eyesight and he was now able to learn how to read and write.

Physical Therapist Susan Bateman said in a phone interview that Chandler was one of the “most unique cases I have seen thus far in my practice.”

That is because Chandler is among 3 percent of the population that has the same form of the disability. A much higher percentage of Americans are legally blind due to other causes.

Although Chandler regained his eyesight, other patients like Chloe Hart did not have the same outcome. Hart says she knew the risk she was taking in having the surgery and it was “painfully hard to watch some of the patients receive their eyesight while the rest of us were left blind to some degree.”

Chandler feels bad for other patients like Hart who did not have the same result as he did. However, he believes that God knows what is best for everybody and that he needed the “gift of sight at that point in (his) life.”

Chandler and Bill Hunt enjoy spending time with each other outdoors.

Chandler and Bill Hunt enjoy spending time with each other outdoors.

Chandler is grateful for his eyesight and unlike most people, he does not take it for granted because he knows what it is like to not have it.

“The world is a very beautiful place, and I can say that because for the majority of my life I have not been able to see it,” he said. “But I have experienced it and I have seen what it offers people and that gives me strength. Strength to overcome my newfound challenges and the strength I need to make a difference.”