AT FIRST SIGHT, The Shirl Jennings Story - by Barb and Shirl Jennings as told to Margery Phelps
Shirl Jennings made medical history when his sight was restored after 40 years of blindness. The picture above is a detail from Shirl's drawing of the beach and ocean after seeing them for the first time.The real story behind the MGM motion picuture, At First Sight, the Shirl Jennings story, is now available at Amazon.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, a world-famous neurologist, studied Shirl's case after the surgery was performed by Dr. Trevor Woodhams in Atlanta, Georgia, due to Shirl's difficulty adjusting to life as a sighted person. Because Shirl related to the world through his senses of touch, smell, and hearing, when his sight was restored, he had no idea what he was looking at. If he saw a fork next to a toothbrush, he could not tell which was which unless he picked it up and felt it.
Sight is an amazing gift, and one which most of us learn from infancy, starting after birth when our eyes learn to focus. Through infancy, toddler years, and on into school years, our brains are trained to remember objects by how they look. The blind cannot do this. They use tactile sensations to identify and relate to everything.
When Shirl's sight was restored, the visual overload was almost devastating. He had no idea what he was looking at and the task of learning it all was emotionally and mentally challenging, as well as a huge physical burden.
Barbara Jennings, Shirl's wife, was determined that he could adjust to a life with sight and navigated unchartered waters to teach him everything - colors, alphabet, numerals, household objects, types of buildings and structural materials, trees and shurbs, animals, roads, railroads, airplanes, bridges, tunnels...the list was endless. There was always more for Shirl to learn.
To expand Shirl's world, Barb took him on countless trips to expose him to new and challenging situations - the beach at Tybee Island, Vermont in the fall, spring in his home state of Virginia, and ultimately, to the Hollywood premier of a movie about their life, At First Sight, starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino.