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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette Tony Patterson of Fort Wayne, with his dog, Basil, wears special sunglasses his parents bought for him that enable the colorblind 12-year-old to see reds and greens. ​​

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 7:17 pm

Seeing the world in a whole new light

Chris Meyers | The Journal Gazette

For years, Tony Patterson only saw shades of gray where so many others saw vibrant colors.

The 12-year-old had no idea what the flowers he was tasked with watering every day at his house looked like. They were just light gray clumps on top of darker gray stems.

That all changed one day late this summer when Tony, who is among the small percentage of people who are color­blind, put on a special pair of sunglasses and suddenly got to see all those reds and greens that had escaped him.

"It was mostly gray. Light and dark shades of gray," Tony said of his vision before the new glasses.

A video of the first time he put on the glasses in August was posted online, and by late September, it had already accumulated nearly 200,000 views on Facebook. It shows Tony in a bright red shirt in front of the Pattersons’ home at Hawthorne Park off Union Chapel Road.

He puts on the glasses, slowly raises and turns his head – right past those flowers he watered all summer – and the change in color hits him.

He strides straight to his mom, Lisa, who’s surprised by her son’s reaction, and hugs her.

"I about cried … I think it was very emotional for him to see those colors," she said.

Meanwhile, his dad, Shawn, stands to the side as he records the experience, left out of the thanks even though he’s the one who got the glasses for Tony.

The glasses made such a difference that Tony made sure to tell his mom she wasn’t quite right when she asked if he could see the red flowers.

"He said, ‘Actually, Mom, they’re a really dark pink,’" Lisa said.

Shawn discovered the EnChroma brand glasses online and figured he’d give them a chance based on reviews he’d read. 

About 8 percent of men and 0.5 percent of women with Northern European ancestry have the most common form of red-green color­blindness, according to the National Eye Institute.

The EnChroma glasses, which cost between $330 and $700, don’t work in all cases. But they help about 80 percent of the people who buy them, according to the company’s website.

The National Eye Institute says there is no cure for colorblindness, and special lenses that offset the condition are a treatment option. Apps for mobile technology also have been developed to help people with colorblindness distinguish among the plethora of colors on the screen.

The version of the glasses Tony got only work outside with natural light. Shawn said he is considering buying a pair for indoor use.

Those would be of most help at school when it comes to colors in class and gym.

Shawn recounted one incident where a gym teacher told Tony to stand on the green line and then became frustrated when he couldn’t figure out which line.

It happens within the family, too, though, as Shawn remembered telling Tony something was next to a red chair, only to be greeted with a blank stare in response.

"You forget. You take it for granted," Shawn said.

Tony has adapted over the years.

He’s learned to look for differences in helmet designs at sporting events so he can tell which team is which. He’s usually pretty good about picking out differences, but certain colors – especially hunter green – or patterns can prove more difficult.

As for his day-to-day life, he’s also learned to adjust.

It will be a few years before he can legally drive, but he knows the red light is on top and the green light is on the bottom.

Some states are a bit different, though.

"It’s when we go down to Florida that it gets hard because they’re sideways," he said of the traffic lights.

But that time is a ways off, and until then, he’ll be able to enjoy all the colors the world has to offer outside, and maybe soon the colors that are inside as well.

"Now he’s seeing them closer to their true color," Shawn said.

cmeyers@jg.net