Gerry Bouey wanted a job. As the third child of six in a blue-collar Detroit home, the precocious 12-year-old figured he needed to find work, just like his older brother and sister had when they turned 12.
But there was one significant difference between Gerry and his siblings. None of them were legally blind.
Gerry was born severely sight-impaired in his left eye, and he’s never been able to see from the right eye. Not that it ever mattered. His mother and father treated him like anyone else and expected Gerry to adhere to the family’s two cardinal rules: work hard and take your education seriously.
But about getting that job … it was the first time when Gerry wasn’t expected to do the same thing as his siblings. It didn’t make any sense, he thought.
“If I find a job, mom,” Gerry said, “can I have it?” Thinking he would never find anyone who was willing to hire a nearly blind 12-year-old, she said, “If you find one, it’s OK.”
Gerry scoured the neighborhood, and it didn’t take long before his persistence paid off. He landed a night paper route for the Detroit Free Press. His mother was true to her word and let him keep it. By the third night, using mind maps pointing out picket fences, barking dogs and fire hydrants, Gerry was on his own and delivering newspapers to 42 customers. He held the job for the next four years.
“I asked my mom years later why she let me have that paper route at night in Detroit,” Gerry said. “And she says, ‘Well, you didn’t seem to realize you had a problem. So we weren’t going to tell you.’”
‘A TURNING POINT’
Until his early 30s, Gerry’s vision hovered around 20/200 thanks to thick glasses and contact lenses. It was barely enough to register on an eye chart, but it didn’t stop Gerry from working his way up to a high-powered banking job.
One day, though, he walked into his office and realized his sight was worse than ever before. For the first time in his life, Gerry was acutely aware that he did have a problem. He rushed to see his doctor and was told ulcers had severely damaged his cornea. What little vision Gerry had was fading, and it wasn’t coming back.
“It was devastating because I’d built my kingdom, and it was snatched away in an hour,” he said. “My whole life changed.”
A few months later, while on medical leave from the bank, Gerry didn’t know where to turn. Then he got a call from his doctor at Kresge Eye Institute in Detroit that changed his life. His eye was in a delicate situation with all of its scar tissue, but they wanted to try a cornea transplant.
The transplant was successful beyond Gerry’s imagination. His vision returned to 20/200 and didn’t stop improving until it reached 20/40. Gerry was 32 years old and suddenly had better vision than at any other point in his life.
“Blindness is so pervasive because you gather most of your experiences through sight,” Gerry said. “My cornea transplant was a turning point in my life, because I knew I needed to be a resource for other people.”
Gerry went from serving himself and his career ambitions to serving others. Since his transplant more than 32 years ago, he has advocated for eye donation and the importance of restored sight by supporting Eversight and volunteering as a member on its Board of Directors.
And the determination he had as a child looking for a job is alive and well. He’s 65 years old today and recently obtained his doctorate in organizational leadership, learning and service from Cardinal Stritch University. He’s providing leadership guidance for Eversight and helping the organization grow its impact and fulfill its mission to restore sight and prevent blindness.
Gerry never had the chance to connect with his cornea donor’s family, but he hopes they would be proud of what he’s accomplished thanks to their gift.
“I believe I have a stewardship because of my transplant, and I haven’t wanted to squander my life away,” Gerry said. “I’d like to think that by working with Eversight to help others in need, I’ve honored my donor and the gift bestowed upon me.”