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Teenager Receives Gift of Sight, Thanks in Part to RMHS Mill Levy Program

Gustavo Finally Saw His Mom's Face for First Time

Gustavo Garcia wears eSight glasses paid for through the Rocky Mountain Human Services Mill Levy Program.

Eighteen-year-old Gustavo Garcia may be legally blind, but that doesn’t mean he can’t see.

With relatively new technology that appears to come straight from a sci-fi film, Gustavo can read and learn more easily in school, see the faces of his friends and family and so much more.

“I can see almost like anyone else,” Gustavo said.

The adaptive technology is a pair of digital glasses – eSight – designed to give the blind sight. The glasses cost between $6,000 and $10,000, but thanks to the Rocky Mountain Human Services (RMHS) Mill Levy Program and Denver residents, the glasses were free to Gustavo’s family.

In 2003, Denver voters approved a measure to dedicate a mill, or a portion of Denver property tax revenue, to Denver residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Denver Human Services contracts with RMHS to use a portion of that funding to meet the individual needs of Denver residents with I/DD.

The Garcias’ journey started with a casual scroll of Pinterest, where Gustavo’s mother, Xochith, discovered eSight’s revolutionary technology. The family researched more and were able to access a pair for Gustavo to try at an event last year. Gustavo put on the glasses and found he could see his mother’s face and read without assistance, bringing tears to Xochith’s eyes.

The glasses can help people with a wide variety of conditions that cause blindness. In Gustavo’s case, his optic nerve didn’t fully develop. Gustavo is also on the autism spectrum, and he started losing his hearing at age 15.

This makes the gift of sight all the more valuable.

The Garcia family was struggling with medical and financial hardships when they were introduced to the technology. Gustavo’s father, Ricardo, had been diagnosed with a heart problem that obliterated the family income. He could no longer work as an auto-body technician, a career that had supported his family for years on a six-figure income. They were forced to dig into Ricardo’s retirement to pay home and medical expenses, almost losing the house where Gustavo has spent the last 15 years of his life.

To top it all off, Gustavo’s cat, Pepe, was also diagnosed with a heart problem and died in December.

It was a perfect storm, but everything changed this year. Xochith discovered she was eligible to be paid as a family caregiver for Gustavo through the Developmental Disabilities (DD) Medicaid waiver, and Ricardo found he was able to get disability income that saved their house. The combined income will support the family while Ricardo waits for heart surgery that could put him back to work.

Xochith still knew she had to find a way to get Gustavo eSight glasses – the only problem was the price. But their RMHS Service Coordinator Emily Fraser thought that the RMHS Mill Levy Program might cover the cost. About two weeks later, Gustavo’s request for mill levy funding was approved.

Now, the glasses will help Gustavo in high school and support his goal of going to college. Certain classes used to be more difficult for Gustavo. Without eSight, showing his work in math class was harder, and he couldn’t experience demonstrations in science class the way his peers could. Now that he can see, Gustavo will be able to take his SAT test unassisted.

“It makes learning a lot easier for him,” Xochith said.

Gustavo wants to eventually become a motivational speaker and help others with similar disabilities overcome challenges. His advice: “Keep pushing through it,” because things get better.

Gustavo believes in the power of technology. He is looking forward to the day when his hearing can be fixed, too.

“Now that I have the eyes, I’m waiting for the ears,” he said.

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