When Cone Dystrophy Took His Eyesight, This Painter’s Art Evolved


By Jack Gerard from In The Cloud Copy

Travis Allen, of Lisbon, Iowa, was a painter who specialized in photorealistic works. Unfortunately, a rare autoimmune condition stole his eyesight by the time he was 47 years old. Allen didn’t give up on his art, however. Even though it might seem that losing your sight would be the end of an art career, the setback led to Allen’s art growing in ways that even he never would have expected.

Losing His Vision

Though Allen didn’t fully lose his vision until his late 40s, he first noticed that his vision wasn’t what it once was in his mid-30s. About 10 years prior, he had gotten laser eye surgery to correct his existing vision issues, since chemicals he worked with while painting motorcycles damaged the lenses of his glasses. When he noticed that the vision in one of his eyes wasn’t quite right, he elected to have the surgery done again. Unfortunately, this time the surgery was ineffective.

At this point, he had an MRI and other tests to try and find out what was causing his degrading vision. Doctors couldn’t identify the cause of his eye problems, and after five years his vision grew so poor that he lost his job as an iron worker. In time, he lost the ability to see colors or fine details; everything appeared gray with no distinction. As it turns out, he was suffering from a condition known as cone dystrophy which, over time, kills the cells in the eye that distinguish color. Only around 100 other cases have been diagnosed and studied.

Changing His Medium

Allen stopped painting motorcycles in 2011 because he was unable to see the fine details of his work. He airbrushed a number of other items in addition to the motorcycles, and previously had worked on canvas as well. Without being able to see the colors and details of his work, he wasn’t able to keep up with his previous painting aspirations; instead, he started working with new mediums such as clay to create sculptures and add three-dimensional features to more abstract paintings. By rediscovering his art and adapting it into a medium that he can work with, Allen has managed to find his way back from a three-year depression.

Developing a New Workflow

To facilitate his art, Allen is learning braille and his home and attached workshop are meticulously organized to ensure that he can navigate them without incident despite not being able to see. He still runs into or trips over things occasionally, but he lives on his own and uses voice-activated technology and various pieces of assistive technology to maintain his quality of life. The support of family and friends also plays a key part in his new life, both for company and to tell him details of the work he’s doing so he can make adjustments as needed. He also has a dog to keep him company, though in an interesting twist, the dog itself is deaf.

Hope for the Future

Though cone dystrophy is exceedingly rare, this doesn’t mean that there is no hope for treatment. Allen donated stem cells, as research may allow doctors to produce new cones for his eyes in the future. Though there is no specific line of research promising a treatment or cure at the moment, he remains hopeful that there might be a treatment in his lifetime. With any luck, a breakthrough may even present itself within the next decade.

Check out the original story here.

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