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Interview With Michael May, Jennifer May

Aired August 26, 2003 - 20:55   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Michael May lost his left eye and was blinded by a chemical explosion when he was three and a half years old. After 40 sightless years, he let doctors attempt an experimental cornea and stem cell implant surgery and partially regained his vision.
His story is in the upcoming September issue of "Nature Neuroscience". And he joins us from Sacramento, along with his wife, Jennifer.

Welcome to both of you. So glad to have you with us tonight.

So Michael, take us back to that period of time after surgery when you had your sight partially restored. Describe to us what that was like.

MICHAEL MAY, REGAINED SIGHT: Well, I wasn't expecting to have anything dramatic happen. I was just glad to be out of the hospital and not sick from the anesthetic. And lo and behold, the bandages come off of my eyes and this whole world of visual information comes flowing in. And the first really fun thing that I saw was my wife, Jennifer, sitting next to me, or just beyond me.

ZAHN: Did she look like you imagined her?

MAY: I hadn't had vision, so I couldn't really imagine her visually, but certainly I knew that she had blood hair. And when I looked and saw blond was a whole bunch of different colors, that was my first big surprise.

ZAHN: Jennifer, it had to be overwhelming to see Michael go through this process. What has it been like for you to see this discovery?

JENNIFER MAY, MICHAEL'S WIFE: It's been -- it's like being with someone -- someone described it as being with an intelligent 3-year- old, because he went through so many experiences. "Oh, wow, what's that? Oh, it's a heating vent."

I mean, everything was fascinating. So it was quite exciting.

ZAHN: Michael, we were with you earlier today and captured some pictures of you in your new environment, catching a ball. And we will let our audience check out you on video here. What are you able to do now that you couldn't do before? M. MAY: Well, catching a ball certainly is certainly a prime example of something that is 100 percent visual. In that way, you really have an example of something that I couldn't do before I had sight. I've done a lot of things as a totally blind person.

This acquisition of vision hasn't really changed my life. It's just enriched it a little bit and given me access to a few things that I didn't have before.

ZAHN: But I understand there was a point where your visual experience was so overwhelming it was too much. Take us back to the day you were watching "Seabiscuit". What happened?

M. MAY: Last week, I was seeing "Seabiscuit" and I realized that I had learned a lot over the last three years in terms of seeing two dimensional objects. I think the first real visual experience I had was seeing "Rent," and that was just so visually overwhelming. And then to see "Seabiscuit" racing towards me on the screen, and it actually made sense and I could see the three dimensional picture, it was beautiful.

ZAHN: Jennifer, your kids must also be overwhelmed by the miracle of all of this. How are they reacting to the big change in their dad's life?

J. MAY: What's really interesting is, because we had such a full life before the vision, at the very beginning they were kind of ho hum, but then they warmed up to realizing that the changes were something fun and interesting for them. So it's -- they love discovering things with him.

ZAHN: Michael, it certainly is nothing short of a miracle. And yet, as you said, you lived a very full life when you didn't have sight. But what would you say has been the richest experience you've had so far now that your sight has been partially restored?

M. MAY: Well, I've had so many good fortunes. It's almost not fair that I added this one to already a long list of things. Certainly seeing panoramas is high on my list. And the other thing that amazed me was the fact that my GPS technology that I had helped to invent and the other adaptive technology really had made it so that vision wasn't as big a deal that everybody made it out to be.

It's a beautiful thing. It's enjoyable. But being blind and being a fully actualized blind person is fantastic as well.

ZAHN: Well, we appreciate you sharing your very inspiring story with us tonight. Michael and Jennifer May, good luck to you.

M. MAY: Thank you very much.

J. MAY: Thank you.

ZAHN: And appreciate you joining us.


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