MONROE, Wis — A young woman is thankful for the kindness of her community and a co-worker for helping her pay for a pricey invention that helps the legally blind see in 20/20.
Jess Jackson says growing up she never had trouble seeing until the age of 10. But her near sightedness progressed into a rare condition, called Stargardt disease during her junior year when the math board became a blur.
"Okay, this isn't normal. I was able to see this like couple days ago, what's going on?" Jess said. "And then that's when I kind of freaked out and I went home and told my parents like there's something wrong," she added.
Something not just wrong, but alarming.
"We were extremely surprised because we don't know anybody else in our family who has experienced it," she said.
Despite her central vision failing, her peripheral sight remained mostly intact. Because of this, she hid her condition from the world, even when she could no longer make out faces and her favorite movies.
"Like if they were doing something specific, I couldn't tell exactly what they were doing. So my family's like oh you know look at that. That's so funny. I'm like yeah, it totally is. But I really couldn't tell," Jess said.
Regardless of her struggle, Jess preserved. She went on to graduate high school and obtain a business degree from UW Whitewater. She relied on huge magnified glasses and screens to do her work while trying to not draw attention to her condition.
But one of her most difficult challenges happened on her first job, at Monroe's First National Bank. While working as a teller, she says customers would say cruel things as she tried counting cash or looking closely at the computer monitor.
"They're basically pointing out the fact that I couldn't see and I clearly knew already that I couldn't see, they didn't have to keep commenting on the fact," Jess said.
But what always impressed her trainer, Angie Friedrichs, was Jess's kind spirit and how she remained calm and kind in the face of cruelty and uncomfortable comments.
"We hooked it off right away," Angie said. "Jessica is a very easy going very loving person."
Around this time, she learned about an FDA approved $6-thousand dollar 'E-sight' device that could help her on the job. It uses a high powered camera to magnify and provide in many cases 20/20 vision assistance.
Jess turned to crowdfunding, but her goal fell short by $3,000 about halfway into the campaign.
"Because I don't have enough people that I know and that, you know, care about me and stuff that are going to be over donate to me especially during COVID, like people are strapped for money right now. I'm like, 'It's gonna take me years to be able to get these glasses,'" Jess said.
Thankfully, Angie was on the wing, watching and waiting for the reason to swoop in to help.
"Well I specifically asked her if she'd had any more people give to her little contribution here and she said well you know, it comes to the point where in time where I think my friends and my family have gave what they can and I'm just going to have to work for the rest," Angie said.
"And I said to her I said do you believe in angels? And, she kind of like, looked at me funny kind of different with what do you get in and she's like, well yeah I guess. And so I handed her a special coin that has an angel on it," she added.
That angel coin was indeed a blessing. Jess recalls what happened next.
"She's like 'well, me and my husband, we're gonna give you $3,000' I'm like, 'Oh my goodness no you're not,' and she was like, 'Yeah, we totally are.' I'm like, 'No you're not. And I almost started crying because I was just so happy.'
Today, Jess uses her E-Sight on the job, at home while watching movies, reading menus, taking walks, just about any and everywhere. And, Angie happy to be a part of that story.
"We did help her see, it really warms the heart," Angie said.
Because Angie believes giving the gift of sight, the best gift of all.
You can learn more about Stargardt disease here.
For more on E-Sight, click here.