Kaylor Teig stood above first base when it first appeared. His whole right eye went blank. The softball could no longer be seen coming from third base. He was hit twice with the ball before he knew something was wrong. “We have to go see an eye doctor,” Kaylor said.
After visiting an ophthalmologist, he was immediately sent down to Edina, Minn. to undergo Vitreo-Retinal Surgery. The surgeon was unsure if Kaylor would ever be able to see again. After undergoing laser surgery, Tieg was able to recover from the temporary blindness. Unfortunately, the problem would return a few years later.
“At first I was scared. I didn’t know if it was hereditary,” said Karen Teig, his wife of 20 years. “At first it was real slow but over the past few years it’s been much more progressive.”
Kaylor Teig, a 53-year-old resident of Duluth, was diagnosed with a form of macular degeneration called angioid streaks. According to MedlinePlus, macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans who are aged 60 and older. It is a disease that destroys your sharp, central vision.
According to Medscape Reference, angioid streaks can be seen as linear gray or dark red lines with irregular serrated edges that lie beneath normal retinal blood vessels. Unlike macular degeneration, this disease is not related to age but the frequency of angioid streaks increases as someone gets older. Doctors say 1.5 percent of younger patients are diagnosed with this disease but it increases to 22 percent as the patients become older.
“It’s something that just showed up,” Kaylor said. “There is no cure; they don’t even know what causes it.”
Kaylor said that he has been dealing with it for almost 12 years, but the disease has gotten more aggressive over the last three to four years. He said that the back of his retina becomes hard and brittle, causing it to crack. Tiny blood vessels then make their way through those cracks before they hemorrhage. As this occurs, Kaylor loses all of his center vision and everything becomes dark but he still maintains much of his peripheral vision.
“My right eye is almost gone now,” Kaylor said. “The left eye has been very active lately. [There is] a lot of bleeding in there. That’s why I get shots all the time.”
These shots are accompanied by laser therapy to clear up most of the blood from the hemorrhaging eye.
Kaylor will have this disease for the rest of his life. Eventually, he will become completely blind.
“It’s the fear of the unknown,” Karen said. “I can’t fathom what he is going through, other than what I see. I see how he is transitioning and the Duluth Lighthouse for the Blind has been a great support system. We just have to live day by day. He will have good days and bad days but I’ve been very proud.”
In order to be proactive and learn how to adjust to blindness, Kaylor attends the Duluth Lighthouse for the Blind three times a week. Sandra Wilmot is the human relations coordinator and employment services instructor at the Lighthouse for the blind.
“We teach people the adjustment skills for vision loss,” Wilmot said.
A class called Communications and Financial Management teaches students how to use magnification and communicate using Braille.
One Monday morning, Kaylor sits down across from his instructor. He wears a flannel shirt, light brown baseball cap and large shades that cover his reading lenses to reduce the glare from any source of bright light or reflection. He learns how to read general Braille contractions from Harold Hanson, a low vision specialist.
A brailler, a device that looks like a typewriter, sits in the center of the table where Kaylor is seated. He places his fingers on several keys and prepares to type.
“I’m ready, shoot!” Kaylor said.
“The cat stole the yarn,” Hanson said.
Kaylor flips through his three-ringed binder, gently placing his fingers over the small dots engraved on the colorful transparencies. These are his own braille study sheets. He tries to remember the sentence Hanson just read.
“What the hell did the cat steal again?” Kaylor said.
After finding the specific contraction, he continues to type.
“Done, done and done,” Kaylor said.
Another class is called Techniques of Daily Living and Adaptive Leisure Activities where students learn how to cook, clean and manage their medication. Finally, the Adaptive Technology Skills class helps students become familiar with computer software programs that allow you to magnify the words on a screen or have a sentence read to you.
“Most of our students are going to work,” Wilmot said. “They need the skills to either continue their education or get a job.”
Kaylor just received a job where he checks various websites and electronic documents to test their accessibility for disabled people.
“I am excited as hell because I haven’t worked since last April,” Kaylor said. “I lost that because my driving privileges got revoked.”
Kaylor said that the Duluth Lighthouse for the Blind is almost solely responsible for his new job.
“Before I started here, I had gotten away from the computer because my vision was so bad,” he said. “I was a computer god in past years. I used to build them from scratch and I knew everything about them, and I had gotten away from all that. Thanks to these guys, it got me interested in technology.”
A low magnification software called ZoomText can read emails aloud to Kaylor and magnify the computer screen to enhance the size of each word on a specific web page.
Kaylor wears glasses to prevent the intense glare from computer screens and light fixtures. He wears darker glasses to protect his eyes from the sun.
“The sun that comes in from the side really bothers me and I get these headaches, this vision induced migraine where I am throwing up and everything.”
Kaylor encounters these migraines about 10 times a month. He said they can last all day but he takes Morphine three times throughout the day and Vicodin for severe migraines.
“I wake up with them almost every morning,” he said. “Things could be worse. This sounds bad but sometimes I just wish I would go blind already. Just so I would not have to deal with the headaches and stuff. Get it over with, get it done with instead of slowly going blind. On the other hand, I am thankful that I do have some vision.”
The doctors cannot predict a time when Kaylor will fully be blind. It could be a matter of days, weeks, months or even years.
Kaylor’s family is very important to him. His neighbors know about his disease but no one treats him any different.
“He is very outgoing, lots of fun,” Karen said. “He is the type to want to help other people.”
His 16-year-old son, Justin, even plays small jokes on Kaylor Tieg to ensure a feeling of optimism at home.
“Dad, how many fingers am I holding up?” Justin said.
“You are giving me the ‘bird’ aren’t you?” Kaylor said. “I can’t see it over there.”
Kaylor said the biggest thing he has lost is his independence. Even though he no longer can drive, the State Services for the Blind provides him with monthly bus passes to travel around the city.
“It’s kind of uncomfortable not knowing how long you have,” Kaylor said. “I am trying to pack in as much as I can and learn as much as I can in the time that I have. I think I am going to be alright, no matter what. It’s going to be a little disheartening that morning [when] I wake up and all my vision is gone but I’ll get through it. I got a lot of supportive people around me and I think that’s key.”