Chelsea Elliott’s parents learned shortly after a preschool eye screening that their 4-year-old daughter was completely and permanently blind in her left eye. An ophthalmologist exam determined that Coats’ Disease, an ailment brought on by a viral infection, caused Chelsea’s blindness. Prior to the diagnosis, Chelsea’s mother noticed a slight straying in Chelsea’s left eye, but she never showed a Glow in any photos or other symptoms indicative of a problem. Needless to say, the diagnosis was a shock to everyone.
Sadly, Chelsea and her family learned two years later that an unrelated condition caused deafness in her right ear. Several years later, while researching Helen Keller for a class assignment, Chelsea surmised she was half-Helen—half-blind and half-deaf. This self-proclaimed nickname would later become the name of her foundation—the Half-Helen Foundation.
By the age of 15, Chelsea’s left eye required removal due to atrophy, a normal repercussion of her disease. Prior to the enucleation, Chelsea had dreams of becoming an eye doctor—to rid the world of eye diseases! However, it wasn’t until college that Chelsea discovered she had a unique opportunity to push through her barriers and help others.
Today, the Half-Helen Foundation identifies preventable vision and hearing impairments by offering screening services in underserved communities. The Foundation uses an innovative tool, the SpotTM camera, to screen for common vision impairments. Much more reliable than traditional eye charts, SpotTM provides a one-page report complete with detailed measurements in seconds.
Chelsea has taken this technology to Maui, where mandatory vision screening was cut due to budgetary limitations. There, of the more than 6,000 children screened, 10 percent were identified as having vision challenges. Chelsea’s next plan is to take on New Hampshire, also in need of vision screening due to budget cuts.
The Foundation envisions implementing vision screening in communities across the country. Know the Glow looks forward to sharing more updates on Chelsea’s work in coming months!