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Seeing Is Believing

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Renay Poirier believes in miracles—and who can blame him? After losing much of his vision nearly a decade ago in an explosion, while working as an electrician, the Eau Claire, Wis., father of two suddenly and inexplicably regained his sight on May 23, while on duty as a physical therapist’s assistant at Sacred Heart Hospital. Medical experts are frankly confounded, since there was no apparent physical reason for Vomer’s blindness—and there is none now for his recovery. “I’ve never seen this before, ” says Dr. Stanley Chang, chairman of the department of ophthalmology at Columbia University’s medical school. “But I guess anything is possible.”

The mystery surrounding the return of his sight hasn’t diminished Vomer’s delight. “This is all overwhelming and joyous,” says Poirier, 40, describing to correspondent Bob Meadows what it was like to see his family once again—wife Connie, 39, a first-grade teacher, and daughters Alea, 12, and Kara, 9. “I’m going to take it moment by moment.”

I lost most of my vision back in October 1990. I was an electrician at a manufacturing plant, when there was a high-voltage explosion: 12,500 volts. A number of wires that were energized touched together, creating a horrific fireball. It knocked me down, hurting my back, neck and arms. I went into shock and was taken to a hospital, treated and released that night.

Everything was blurry right away, and my vision deteriorated further. I was legally blind. I could see shapes, maybe. When my doctor told me he couldn’t find any specific reason for my loss of sight, I began to think posttraumatic stress might have played a role. But I still couldn’t see.

I don’t think “anger” is the right word to describe what I felt. I was frustrated. It was a very difficult time for me. I couldn’t see my wife, I couldn’t see my children, I couldn’t see the world. I had to relearn how to do things. It was difficult walking at first, maintaining my balance. I had to use a cane. It was only after I went back to school in ’94 to become a physical therapist’s assistant that I started to gain a bit of my confidence. I could hold my head up and say, “I’m not worthless. I can do something with my life.”

And then this thing happened. I was at work May 23, when I experienced a severe headache. Then all of a sudden there was this really bright light. At first I thought I was having a heart attack or a stroke. I thought I was dying. Then there was a comforting feeling. The pain went away. And then I looked outside through the window. I thought, “Wow, the chapel!” in a dreamy way. Then I realized that I was actually seeing the chapel!

I turned and ran down nine flights of stairs. I ran to the chapel and I prayed, “Thank you, God, thank you.” Then I knocked on the priest’s door. I was banging, yelling, “Father, Father, are you in there? I can see, I can see.” He came out and I said, “Father, I can see!” I probably said it 100 times, I was so excited.

I walked outside, lay down on my back and watched the clouds. It was beautiful! I looked at the trees. I was overwhelmed. I’d forgotten what things looked like. You learn to see with your heart, but you forget the beauty of the flowers and the trees and of making eye contact when you talk to people.

I called my wife at school and then I called my sister Rhonda. I told her what had happened and that I needed to get home. At some point I saw myself. The last time I’d seen myself, I was 30 and had hair. Now I was 40 and pretty bald. I wondered where the time had gone.

After my sister dropped me off at home, I started going through the pictures of family and friends. I couldn’t stop crying. Through those years I had played a big part in my wife and my children’s lives, but in the pictures I saw what I really missed. I missed the smiles, the colors of the drawings they made me. I missed the beauty in all that.

In the late afternoon I heard my wife’s car pull up. I was really nervous. I ran out and I remember looking at Connie and saying, “Oh my, you sure are beautiful!” We shared a few tears. Then we went to the babysitter’s. The girls came walking out. They didn’t know I could see. They hopped in the car. I turned and was just staring at them. Alea said, “Dad, are you okay?” I said, “I’m very okay. I can see you now.” They wanted to test me right away. Kara wrote something on a paper and handed it to me. It said, “I love you, Big Daddy, I love you, Big Mama.”

I later called Dr. Redmann, my ophthalmologist, and made an appointment. I could see 20/40. I was 20/20 before the accident. I asked him, “Is this going to leave?” He said, “I don’t know. Your vision has returned. I can’t explain it. Let’s hope that it stays.”

So here I am. I’ve accepted that God has a plan. I don’t understand it, I may never understand it. I’m just thankful I’ve been given this second chance. I’m looking forward to birthdays, to Christmas. Now I look forward to every day. I wake up in the morning and I say, “I can see. It’s going to be a good day.”