“You need to go straight to the emergency room,” my neuro-ophthalmologist said with great urgency.
She had just diagnosed me with a “textbook” severe (and incredibly rare) Vitamin A deficiency that was leaving me blind. It was the first time meeting her: another ophthalmologist had referred me to her after stumping all the other doctors I’d seen over several months. This doctor was different. She was the answer to my prayers.
With my stomach threatening to growl, I asked her if I could go home to have lunch first. I wouldn’t be able to eat for hours at the ER. The doctor wouldn’t budge and even got a little upset with me for asking. Instead, I had to go straight to the hospital, immediately! She wrote me a note to give to the ER doctor with her diagnosis while her staff ordered an Uber driver for me.
That’s how I found myself being admitted to the hospital for the fourth time in less than five months. It was a clear and unusually warm October second afternoon. I remember thinking that maybe the doctor had been exaggerating. Surely I couldn’t lose my eyesight completely over a weekend. After all, it had taken over a year to get to that point. Still, I invoked the intercession of my new heavenly friend while I waited for the ER doctor to look over my medical history. I soon found out that the neuro-ophthalmologist had been right, and that her insistence and diagnosis not only saved part of my eyesight but it also saved my life.
I started having eyesight problems in April 2019. It started small, with blurriness and a second or two of darkness. I thought it was anxiety or hypoglycaemia since I was hungry when it happened. I didn’t think twice about it since it happened once and it was very brief. By June it happened again, only for a longer period of time and it was more intense. After repeated incidences, I made an appointment with my primary doctor and was referred to an ophthalmologist.
For several months they kept an eye (no pun intended) on my vision changes. They couldn’t figure out what was going on. I had bilateral optic nerve edemas and dry eyes but they couldn’t figure out the root cause. MRIs and blood tests didn’t bring us any closer to a diagnosis. Then COVID happened and I didn’t see anyone for months. In the meantime, both my eyesight and health in general began to decline rapidly.
In June I could no longer drive. In late July I could barely see out of my right eye. When August rolled around, I could no longer read nor see for more than a couple of minutes at a time. As September began I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye and the left was quickly dimming. By the time I saw the neuro-ophthalmologist that early October afternoon, I was almost completely blind out of both eyes.
Enter the Venerable, turned Blessed
A couple of months before my diagnosis, then-Venerable Carlo Acutis had been popping up in my life quite frequently. I had heard of him and had even seen his picture in the years prior but I hadn’t really paid much attention to his story. I knew he had been a teenager when he had died and that he’d also been a computer whiz. That was it. I had heard the news that he was to be beatified and could potentially become the patron saint of the internet (sorry, St. Isidore of Seville). The potential first Millennial saint? Cool! Still, I didn’t pay much attention. . . . until I could no longer ignore him.
As my eyes dimmed, Carlo became the heavenly friend I needed. My health was at its lowest in July. I had dropped thirty pounds and was twenty-two pounds underweight. I’d had two blood transfusions that month and had had my first surgery ever a few months earlier. Things weren’t looking pretty. Doctors remained utterly stumped. They couldn’t figure out what was causing my deteriorating health. I began to think about my mortality and the real possibility that I wouldn’t have much more time if things kept going at that rate.
I had resigned myself to the reality that I was slowly becoming completely blind and that the doctors might always refer to me as a medical mystery. I’d weep for weeks, asking God why I was going through it. I didn’t blame him: I was simply scared. If there’s one thing I’ve always been afraid of it’s the dark, literally and metaphorically. The thought that I would be plunged into total darkness terrified me. Still, I knew that if it happened it would be God’s will for me. Depression threatened to envelop me.
At that point, my mother and I decided to pull out the big guns and ask a blessed for their intercession for my eyesight and health in general. Despite looking at various blesseds, it became clear that Carlo would be the one to pray for me. In fact, it almost seemed like he had chosen me, not the other way around.
Before I lost my eyesight completely, I did a little research on him. There were a couple of cool coincidences. We shared the same birth month, only he’d been six years younger than me. He had also died only two weeks after my own reversion. I also learn that he had died of Leukemia at the age of fifteen. The closest I got to having a similar condition was the chronically low platelets and anemia I’d had for years. I thought that perhaps that was why Carlo kept coming up — a still undiagnosed blood disorder that my haematologist had missed over the years. With that theory, we began asking for his intercession.
Little by little we began being referred to other specialists who referred me to other specialists, until we got to the neuro-ophthalmologist. At every appointment, I would ask Carlo for his intercession. At every appointment, the doctors—even those who had seen me for months and even years—began to get closer to the answers.
A diagnosis that saved my life
I will never forget that first week of October 2020. At the recommendation of the neuro-ophthalmologist, they began checking my vitamin levels. Based on my medical history, other tests had also been ordered by the admitting doctor. From what the ophthalmologist had said, the doctor had a hunch that there was one thing no doctor had bothered checking me for because it isn’t something that is immediately considered based on my symptoms. They began Vitamin A infusions that first night at the hospital as they waited for lab results to confirm what the doctor had suspected.
After years of struggling to find the root cause to multiple health problems, we finally got our answer: it was an adrenal insufficiency and severe malnutrition. My body had stopped absorbing nutrients, including Vitamin A which almost cost me my eyesight. The doctor immediately ordered for all the nutrients to be given to me through n IV and in pill form. I spent almost a week in the hospital. By the time I left, I was no longer in the dark and had even regained about thirty percent of my eyesight. I would later find out that I’d had had multiple symptoms of an adrenal crisis—the very ones that must’ve tipped off the ER doctor. It was that crisis that could’ve been fatal if I’d not gotten the help I got at the hospital.
Carlo’s Beatification Mass and the final piece to the medical mystery
The day before Carlo’s beatification Mass I found myself back in the emergency room but this time at a different hospital. It was there that I decided to give my entire life over to God. “Your will, not mine,” I said in tears. I was mentally and emotionally (not to mention physically) exhausted. I didn’t think I was strong enough to endure the health crosses I’d been carrying for so long.
“You are strong enough. You’re stronger than you think,” a male voice with an Italian accent said. I was in the room by myself but I heard it clearly. The words were repeated as I felt a light , reassuring pressure on my right hand. It was as if someone had been holding it. Then I felt as if someone had kissed my forehead. The image of Carlo being at my side at that moment became clear in my mind. It had felt as if he’d really been there with me. I was discharged an hour later and went home to rest.
I got up early to listen to his beatification Mass the following morning. I still couldn’t see pictures or the TV but I wasn’t going to miss my new friend’s big moment. I thought about everything that had happened in the months and weeks leading up to that day. I remembered the dream I had of him telling me I would be able to become a consecrated virgin (the vocation I’d been discerning for months) the day after his feast day. This had been weeks before I had either my diagnosis or even knew about his beatification date. I thought about that moment in the ER where I had felt his presence. I thought about how I had finally gotten answers the same month he had gone to his eternal reward.
I looked up at the TV screen just as he was being declared a blessed. My eyes welled up as I saw his face: the first image I’d been able to see since I’d lost my eyesight months earlier. I broke down in tears as I described his picture to my mom; to make sure I was seeing it correctly. I was. My eyesight didn’t get better after that (it actually got worse) but I took it as a sign that he wasn’t done quite yet.
I found myself back in the hospital almost three weeks later. I’d unknowingly gotten pneumonia, two additional infections, and kidney stones. I found myself admitted to the same hospital where I’d heard that voice say that I was stronger than I thought. I spent two weeks in the hospital before I was released. It turned out to have been a blessing in disguise since the fresh pair of eyes from different doctors led to the final puzzle piece that would put me on my current road to recovery.
The future for Blessed Carlo and me
The scars and physical reminders of all the surgeries and procedures I had remind me of how blessed I am. I’ve regained most of my weight back. All the blood draws since late November have shown that my anemia is gone. The low platelets I’d had for over a decade and a half are within normal range and are the highest I’ve ever had them. As of the last bloodwork done a month ago, most (if not all) of my vitamin and mineral deficiencies seem to have been reversed.
I’m still on medication for my adrenal insufficiency but my endocrinologist has hopes it’ll one day revert back to normal. My eyesight is only about 50-60% back. I still can’t cook for myself and I need help getting around, especially in new environments where I don’t know the layout. The prognosis isn’t great. The optic nerve atrophy was not regenerating as of my last ophthalmology appointment a month ago. There’s a chance I will remain partially blind for the rest of my life since optic atrophy is usually irreversible. Still, I’m not going to let it stop me.
I made two promises I intend to keep. First, I’ll try to do everything I can to help other visually-impaired Catholics in whichever ways I can. It’s not easy to keep up a solid prayer life when there’s limited resources available.
My second promise is that I will make the most out of life. I was given a second chance and I intend to do what I can to encourage devotion to Bl. Carlo in the process.
I cannot express how grateful I am for his intercession. Sure, my current eyesight prognosis is a bit grim but that doesn’t mean that I won’t pray for a miracle. Whether that miracle will be that that my eyesight will be fully restored or whether that miracle will be that all of this will help get him canonized through his intercession for someone else, I will pray it happens.
Mark my words; Bl. Carlo Acutis will become a canonized saint some day. I don’t know when that will be. I don’t know which miracle will get him there. I don’t know if it’ll happen during my lifetime. All I know is that this young man has been and will continue to be a big part of my life—the life I have no doubt he helped save.
And if you’re wondering how I was able to write all of this with my vision limitations: all thanks to the new phone my spiritual director and close friends helped me get before I lost my eyesight. It was programmed to read everything I type aloud. It also reads everything I highlight out loud. This is how I intend to keep writing: using the gifts that God has given me. I’m sure Bl. Carlo would’ve gotten a kick out of these features if he’d been alive long enough to own a smartphone.
Please pray for us!
Featured Image: Wikimedia commons.