'The trees were a deeper green than I imagined, and so tall'
Three years ago, Mike May's sight was partially restored by a pioneering transplant using
stem cells. Now, as neuroscientists release their analysis of the effects of the operation on
the brain, we publish his remarkable account of seeing for the first time since he was
, Tuesday August 26 2003
March 20 2000
I took my first flight since the operation on March 7. It was very bumpy and I was
keeping my mind off this by working. After about 30 minutes, I suddenly realised that I
could look out of the window, so I did. I could see some white lines in the distance and
brown and green patches sliding by on the ground. I was so excited and eager to find out
what I was looking at that I asked the person sitting next to me: "Excuse me, I just got
my sight back last week after being totally blind for 43 years. Could you help me figure
out what I am seeing?" There was a long pause as she decided whether I was a lunatic or
I broke the silence by asking if the white lines I could see were mountains. She said: "No,
honey, that's haze." From then on, she and her husband gave me a play by play
commentary on the central valley, fields, channels, roads, Tehachapi mountains and,
finally, the Los Angeles coastline. I could see the water and even the waves. I picked out
white dots, which must have been sailboats.
I have just returned from a conference and my first intense business and social
interaction with the use of low vision. I found it very distracting to look at people's faces
when I was having a conversation. I can see their lips moving, eyelashes flickering, head
nodding and hands gesturing. At first, I tried looking down, but if it was a woman in a
low-cut top that would be even more distracting. It was easier to close my eyes or tune
out the visual input. This was often necessary in order to concentrate on what they were
saying. I am sure there will come a time when all this visual communication will mean
more to me, but for now it is just distracting.
Although I can't yet recognise faces I could remember the colour of someone's hair and
clothing. If someone I had spoken to earlier came up to me, I could see who it was and
acknowledge him or her before they said anything.