When I heard news stories that a football player at the University of Southern California is blind, I knew that the reporters were using the legal definition of blindness, 20/200 or worse, rather than the popular definition of blindness, completely sightless. After all, playing college football at the highest level with no vision is obviously impossible.
I was completely wrong.
Jake Olson has had both his eyes removed because of retinoblastoma. Both eyes were initially involved with the cancer, but only one eye required enucleation at 10 months of age. His second eye was removed when the cancer returned at age 12 years.
Through practice and sheer determination, in high school he learned to play a football position called long snapper. His job is to hike the ball on extra point or field goal attempts. The opening week of the 2017 football season, he snapped the ball in a college game. When asked if he was nervous about how he would do, Jake was quoted by Jacey Fortin in the September 3, 2017 New York Times as saying: “It’s not like, ‘I hope this goes right.’ If you do it correctly, it will go right.”
I have a friend whose first-born child has used a wheelchair all his life. He will graduate college this year and plans to go to graduate school. At one point, his mom felt compelled to ask how it felt to be unable to walk. “Mom,” he said, “Do you feel bad because you can’t fly?”
We are privileged to assist patients whose anatomical, physiological, or psychological tool kit might be missing a part. Many of them teach me a great deal. Sometimes it takes an inspiring public figure or a patient in the exam room to remind me of the opportunities most of us have.