NEW PALESTINE — Until recently, 11-year-old Gus Walling never had seen the leaves on trees change color in the fall. He thought peanut butter was green and redbud blossoms were blue.
His 8-year-old brother, Abe, saw things the same way; but the boys’ mother, Christa Walling, an optometrist in Greenfield, knew better.
Both boys are partially colorblind and easily confuse shades of blue for red and brown for green. Some colors are washed out, and others they can’t see at all. But through her work, their mother recently stumbled across new specialty lenses that can counteract the condition, giving the boys a new view of the world.
She wasted no time ordering a pair for each son, and in the few weeks the boys have worn them, she’s been astounded by the results. The technology changes the way her children perceive the world around them, helping them distinguish between colors that previously appeared to be all the same. For the colorblind, most of whom inherit the condition, it’s as close as anyone can come to a cure.
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And for the mother who makes her living helping others to see, it’s been a blessing whose impact she has witnessed firsthand.
“It’s totally enhanced their view of the world,” said Christa Walling, who lives in New Palestine. “Even the little things, like seeing a peach-colored rose that they used to think was white, makes a big difference.”
Jim Walling, the boys’ father, said that when he and his wife realized the boys were colorblind when they were both around 2 years old they assumed it was something they’d have to cope with the rest of their lives.
“At the time, we were kind of just like, ‘This is life, boys,’” he said. “I never would’ve guessed we’d find something like this.”
Christa Walling, whose father is colorblind, knew there was a 50 percent chance the trait could be passed on to each son. In addition, colorblindness is much more common in males than females — about one in 12 men are partially colorblind, compared with one in 200 women.
Naturally, she was disheartened to discover both boys carried the trait.
“You don’t ever want anything to be wrong with your kids,” she said.
Partial colorblindness doesn’t obstruct day-to-day functioning, but it’s still limiting, she said.
Certain professions aren’t feasible to pursue, she said, especially those with employees whose work involves the identification of specific colors, like electricians.
The past several weeks, however, have been eye-opening for Gus and Abe.
“It just brings out the color in everything,” said Gus, a sixth-grader at Sugar Creek Elementary School.
Now, he’s discovering new colors everywhere he looks.
He recalled looking out the window during a recent car ride and noticing something odd about the fall foliage. He was used to seeing green leaves, but this was different; the leaves were orange and red and yellow, colors his eyes weren’t used to seeing.
Although his favorite color has always been blue, he said, he’s seeing more of it now than ever before.
Through her work, she has come across many products purporting to correct colorblindness, Christa Walling said, but those were mostly gimmicks.
But her sons’ new glasses, developed by EnChroma, a California-based company, is completely new technology. Its lenses alter the range of colored wavelengths an individual with colorblindness is able to see.
Andy Schmeder, co-founder of the company, explained that the product was actually discovered by accident.
Ten years ago, Don McPherson, a glass scientist who at the time was manufacturing lenses to be worn by doctors while performing surgeries, decided to substitute a set of the lenses he had made for sunglasses one day.
After he lent those glasses to a friend who, coincidentally, was colorblind, he discovered the technology’s unanticipated capabilities.
“That gave him the inkling that it might be able to help the colorblind see,” said Schmeder, who works as chief technology and operating officer for the company.
After a decade spent dialing in data, completing research and developing a market, the product is finally available to the public. Walling’s practice, Hancock Eye Associates, is the only practice in Indiana where patients can try on the glasses.
Christa Walling said she’s just happy her kids can see the world the way she sees it.
“Certain things are just dulled out to them, but now, maybe they don’t have to see it that way,” she said.
And the smaller obstacles, like completing art projects and choosing clothes that match, are no longer a concern, she added.
“None of their outfits ever matched before, but I’m already seeing them do a little better with that as well,” she said, laughing.
Individuals with color blindness have trouble seeing red, green or blue, or a mix of the colors. Color vision problems are typically present at birth and are often an inherited trait.
Males are much more susceptible to the condition than females; it affects one in 12 males, compared with one in 200 females.
EnChroma lenses increase the range of colored wavelengths an individual with colorblindness is able to see. As a result, color combinations that before were difficult for patients to see, become more distinct and vibrant.