Sight Savers America
Recipients and Artists
2020 Recipient: Torrey DeKeyser, Executive Director, EyeSight Foundation of Alabama
Torrey DeKeyser joined the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama (ESFA) as Executive Director in 1999 following a 20-year career in university advancement and administration within the University of Alabama System, including both the University of Alabama (her alma mater) and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
Ms. DeKeyser is responsible to the EyeSight Foundation governing board in all aspects of the foundation’s work. As a charitable grant making organization dedicated to serving as a catalyst for improving eyesight through education, research and access to care in Alabama, ESFA awards $2.5 million in grants annually. In 2012 the EyeSight Foundation was named Outstanding Charitable Organization by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Active in the philanthropic community, Ms. DeKeyser belongs to state, regional and national funders groups, including Alabama Giving, for which she is past-president of the Board of Directors. She served on the Board of Directors of the Southeastern Council of Foundations (SECF) and continues to serve on SECF’s Public Policy Committee, which she also chaired.
Within the eye care community, Ms. DeKeyser is Immediate-Past Chair of the Prevent Blindness Board of Directors, where she also has served as Secretary and as Co-Chair of its Public Health and Policy Committee. She is involved with the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research/Alliance for Eye and Vision Research, as well as the Priory in the USA of the Order of St. John and the Vision Research Funding Partnership. She has served on Sight Savers America’s Hall W. Thompson Hero for Sight Award Steering Committee since its inception.
She is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, and is a past member of the American Heart Association (AHA) Circle of Red. She has worked in the past with the YWCA Purse & Passion program, the VOICES for Alabama’s Children Board of Directors, the Birmingham Women’s Committee of 100, the Birmingham Women’s Network and the United Way of Central Alabama Loaned Executive Program.
Ms. DeKeyser and her husband Armand have four sons and three grandchildren and enjoy travel, cooking and outdoor activities.
Artist: Mary Dignan
Mary Dignan was born in 1954 with Usher syndrome, an inherited disease typified by deafness at birth and blindness later in life from retinitis pigmentosa, or RP. She earned an undergraduate degree in 1976 from Santa Clara University and a law degree with honors in 1994 from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. Her career in agriculture and water resources management policy includes newspaper reporting, federal and state legislative work, public relations and governmental liaison work, and water and environmental law.
After brain tumor surgery in 1997, she retired from her legal practice and began practicing mosaic art. Her work has been shown at San Francisco City Hall, Canadian Helen Keller Centre in Toronto, Sacramento County Board of Supervisors chambers, Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, Sacramento County Law Library, Sacramento Society for the Blind, and various other public and private venues. She has shared her mosaic technique with sighted, blind and deaf-blind students in the US, Canada and India.
Her community service includes six years on the Disability Advisory Committee to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, more than a decade with Bread of Life and Spirit in the Arts (www.breadoflife.org), and five years as president of the Sacramento Chapter of Foundation Fighting Blindness. She is presently a member of the Sacramento Embarcadero Lions Club.
2019 Recipient: Dr. Kathy Weise, Director of Pediatric Optometry, UAB School of Optometry
Dr. Kathy Weise is from Denver, Iowa, the mile-wide city. She is the daughter of Ruth Niemann and Coach Larry Niemann. Through her parents, Kathy discovered the infinite joy in helping children and a deep enthusiasm for uplifting others.
While attending Iowa State University, Kathy was inspired to pursue the profession of optometry by her uncle, Dr. Bob Niemann. After graduating from the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago, she joined the UAB Optometry faculty and became a Professor of Optometry in 2015. In 2004, Dr. Weise earned her MBA from the UAB School of Business and went on to help develop the nation’s first truly combined degree OD/MBA program in 2016.
Dr. Weise became the UAB Pediatric Optometry Service Director in 2004 and has since helped provide compassionate eye care for well over 50,000 children. Dr. Weise and principal investigator, Dr. Marsh-Tootle, helped conduct the Correction of Myopia Evaluation Trial, a 14-year, NIH-funded, randomized clinical trial that showed proof of concept that growth of the human eye could be slowed with an optical intervention. Dr. Weise was most recently selected to lead the NIH-funded Pediatric Eye Disease Investigator Group’s study of myopia and low-dose atropine. In February, 2019, the newly combined and deliberately collaborative team of pediatric optometrists and ophthalmologists at UAB was recognized by PEDIG and the National Eye Institute with the site of the year award.
Locally, Dr. Weise created the mTBEye clinic in collaboration with the Children’s of Alabama Concussion Clinic in 2013. Since then, Kathy created BlazerVision, a collaborative effort between optometry and ophthalmology to support UAB athletes.
Dr. Weise has proudly supported the UAB School of Optometry’s (UABSO) collaborative relationship with Sight Savers America (SSA) since 1997. These efforts include referrals of SSA children to the clinical services arm of the Pediatric Optometry Service of UAB Eye Care, as well as to its NIH research endeavors. This joint collaboration coordinates and provides eye examinations, eyeglasses, specialty glasses, vision therapy, other treatments, and referrals for surgery and other ophthalmological services.
Kathy recently said, “I’m convinced that Sight Savers America’s referral program has helped the UABSO Pediatric Clinic grow by about 400% in student encounters over the last couple decades and about 50% in overall patient census over the last decade. This project provides a great foundation for clinical care experiences for students, but also teaches the student the importance of providing opportunities for good vision care to children of all socioeconomic means.”
Kathy has also made generous donations of her time and capital to help SSA raise funds for children’s eye care and has introduced SSA programs to new partners throughout the United States.
2019 Artist: John Bramblitt
John Bramblitt is an artist living in Denton Texas. His art has been sold in over 120 countries and he has appeared internationally in print, TV and radio. And John is blind.
Prior to his blindness, John studied at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, where he graduated with honors. When he lost the last of his vision in 2001 due to complications with epilepsy and Lyme disease, his hopes of becoming a creative writing teacher were shattered and he sunk into a deep depression. He felt disconnected from family and friends, alienated and alone. But then something amazing happened — he discovered painting. He learned to distinguish between different colored paints by feeling their textures with his fingers. He taught himself how to paint using raised lines to help him find his way around the canvas, and through something called haptic visualization, which enables him to “see” his subjects through touch. He now paints amazingly lifelike portraits of people he’s never seen–including his wife and son.
He currently works as a consultant for museums in developing programs that are designed to include everyone – no matter their ability or disability. While art was always a major part of John’s life, it was not until he lost his sight that he began to paint. According to John, “Everyone has an artist somewhere in them; sometimes they just need a little help letting it out.”
2018 Recipient: Edwina Taylor, Founder & Executive Director, Cahaba Valley Health Care
Edwina Taylor is the founder and former Executive Director of Cahaba Valley Health Care. She has four years of experience as a Palliative Care Specialist and Nurse Practitioner at the Balm of Gilead Palliative Care Unit at Cooper Green Hospital, and 28 years of experience as an RN in both inpatient and outpatient areas of Hematology-Oncology at the University of Alabama hospitals and clinics.
Edwina adopted her daughter, Emilie, from Guatemala in 1979 and thus began her passion for the Hispanic culture. While working at Cooper Green, she became aware of the plight of health care for uninsured people.
In 1999, while sleeping, she had a dream about creating a clinic for Hispanics called Cahaba Valley Health Care. The dream became a reality when the board of CVHC was formed in April of 2000. Although the initial purpose was to serve Hispanics, the focus has since broadened to include all underserved people needing vision and dental care in Jefferson and Shelby counties. In 2000, Edwina appeared on the Bill Moyers special, On Our Own Terms, featuring the Balm of Gilead unit at Cooper Green.
Edwina has lived her life by the words of John Wesley’s “Rule of Life” –
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.
Sight Savers America is honored to present our 2018 Hero For Sight Award to Edwina Taylor for her tireless efforts in bringing increased access to eye care in Alabama.
2018 Artist: Ricky Trione
He had two accidents that took away his vision, one eye at a time, in a 7-year period. His left eye was permanently damaged, while serving as a Captain in the Army in 1993, when a rock was slung though the open window of his vehicle. Seven years later, a large strip of tire tread flew from a passing truck and struck him in his other eye, causing permanent blindness.
Ricky could no longer drive a car or enjoy doing pen and ink art. He eventually learned to create art by using textures so that he could feel his way across a canvas. He works in a 3D style that includes thick texture paints and molding compounds. His greatest joy is getting to visit children of all ages in schools, art camps and special events. Ricky offers children hope and inspiration, while teaching them special art lessons, demonstrating that you can enjoy being creative and artistic, no matter what obstacles come your way. The 2018 Hero For Sight Commissioned art piece is titled “Shining the Light on Sight”.
2017 Recipient: Doyce Williams, President & CEO, Alabama Eye Bank
Doyce has served as President & CEO of the Alabama Eye Bank (AEB) for 36 years. A charter member of the Eye Bank Association of America, AEB is a Birmingham-based nonprofit whose objective is to obtain quality human eye tissue and distribute it to qualified physicians around the world
Doyce became AEB’s executive director when the eye bank was in its infancy. Under his leadership, they have been ranked as a top 10 eye bank in the world for 33 consecutive years. His hard work, vision and creativity are hallmarks of his success as a pacesetter for AEB and the eye banking industryAEB’s Global Sight Network initiative has filled a gap in the productivity distribution of the U.S. supply of donated corneas. According to the Eye Bank Association of America, AEB has provided over 75,000 corneas and eye tissues since 1980, generating over 6 billion dollars to the economies of the eye care community in 49 states and 54 countries.
In 2012, Doyce was appointed to serve on the Cornea Preservation Time Study (CPTS) Advisory Committee and in 2014, he was the recipient of the Eye Bank Association of America’s prestigious Leonard R. Heise Award, the highest honor given to an individual in the eye banking profession.
Doyce also supports other nonprofit organizations in the eye care community. He played a significant role in helping Sight Savers America (SSA) in its early years. He provided free office space and other in-kind donations. He also helped procure sponsorships and offered expert advice and recommendations. Jeff Haddox (President of SSA), said, “Doyce has been a good friend and important supporter of SSA and Alabama’s eye care community.”
Sight Savers America is honored to present our 2017 Hero For Sight Award to Doyce Williams for his lifelong impact on eye care in Alabama and beyond.
2017 Artist: George Mendoza
George Mendoza was born in New York City in 1955. At the age of 15 he was diagnosed with a rare, incurable, degenerative eye disease, fundis flavimaculatus. Effects of the disease caused him to lose all of his central vision and keep only a gray foggy fringe of peripheral vision. In the center of his view he sees what he calls “kaleidoscope eyes” – intense and changing visual images of fiery suns, brightly burning eyes and colorful pinwheels.
A man of vision and courage, George went on to become a world-class runner, Olympic contender, author, and a motivational speaker to the youth and the disabled in America. In 1993 he began to paint full-time. Ironically, Mendoza’s paintings spring from the loss of his eyesight and a very special vision that took its place.
George Mendoza remembers physical sight. His works derive from visual memories intertwined with dreams, visions, and emotional experiences. Defying categorization, Mendoza paints figuratively and abstractly. Sight Savers America selected George as their 2017 Hall W. Thompson Hero For Sight artist. His painting is titled “Butterfly Dreams”.
2016 Recipient: Monday Morning Quarterback Club / Crippled Children’s Foundation
The Monday Morning Quarterback Club of Birmingham, AL was organized in 1939. Under the direction of Zipp Newman, then Sports Editor of The Birmingham News the club was established for the express purpose of fellowship among football lovers. But it wasn’t long before the club began looking beyond football.
At the time of the club’s inception, polio was the number one medical concern in the U.S. The disease was rampant, striking thousands, most of whom were children. With a humanitarian desire, the club members promoted and sponsored an annual high school football game in order to raise money for a magnificent hospital to help care for afflicted children. The club, with others, subsequently raised over $3 million to build the Crippled Children’s Clinic and Hospital. In late 1969, the clinic building became a part of the Medical Center at UAB, and the Crippled Children’s Foundation was formed.
The mission of the Crippled Children’s Foundation is to provide funds to fulfill medical needs to children, which otherwise would not be met. They aim to make a difference in medical care and medical opportunities for children and young adults. Since 1969, the club has remained active in this fund-raising capacity. They continue to enjoy the fellowship, but serve many worthwhile purposes for others who have such great needs. This year they are celebrating their 78th Season.
Cumulatively over the past 11 years, Sight Savers America has been the recipient of funding from the club totaling over one million dollars! These funds have served over 10,000 children across the state of Alabama providing individual case management, vision screenings, eye exams, eyeglasses, aphakic contact lenses, rural eye clinics, low vision assistive devices, medications, vision therapy, ocular prosthetics, surgeries and other treatments for eye conditions. For the difference they have made in lives of Alabama’s Children, the Monday Morning Quarterback Club/Crippled Children’s Foundation is the Sight Savers America 2016 Hero For Sight!
2016 Artist: Amy Monthei
Amy was born in Des Moines, Iowa, with congenital cataracts. Her lenses were removed when she was a few months old and she now has low vision. Her parents, who are also artists with low vision, saw great promise in Amy’s creative endeavors and encouraged her with great enthusiasm. “Blindness is an inconvenience, not a tragedy” – this lesson was imparted to Amy by her parents. They taught her to believe when an individual is disabled in one area, they are not necessarily left at a considerable disadvantage; that having a disability should never be perceived as being inadequate.
Amy worked for many years in various fine art galleries. In her early thirties she was diagnosed with early onset open angle Glaucoma and as a result faces challenges every day. Currently, she creates artwork in her home-based studio in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is inspired by the light and colors of nature found within the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands. She regularly shows and sells work in many galleries and creates commissioned work for clients throughout the U.S.
Amy is working on a series of tactile Braille paintings that have highly textured surfaces and multiple layers of color. These works intrigue the sighted viewer and create a piece of art that is accessible to a visually impaired or blind individual and can be enjoyed from a completely different viewpoint. The 2016 Hero For Sight Commissioned art piece is titled “Sensory Reflections: Share the Vision-grade 2 Braille”.
2015 Recipient: Hartwell Davis, Jr.
Mr. Hartwell Davis (far right) is Chairman of the Board of Metalplate Galvanizing, Inc., a provider of hot dip galvanizing service for the steel industry throughout the South. For the past 45 years he has been President or Chairman of Metalplate. He holds a BS in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Columbia University. After college Hartwell served in the United States Navy as a commissioned officer.
Hartwell is past president of Rotary Club of Birmingham, past president of Crippled Children’s Foundation, former Captain of Monday Morning Quarterback Club, past chairman of EyeSight Foundation of Alabama, former vice chairman of Alabama Ear Institute, and former trustee of Birmingham-Southern College. He is a member of Canterbury United Methodist Church, where he served as Chairman of the Church Council among other roles.
A native Alabamian from Montgomery, Hartwell lives in Birmingham with his wife, Martha Pollard Davis. They have seven children and 12 grandchildren.
Hartwell has been an advocate for children’s eye care throughout his quarter-century tenure on the Board of EyeSight Foundation of Alabama and 18-years’ service with Crippled Children’s Foundation. As a board member of both organizations, he continues support of Sight Savers America. Hartwell was involved with efforts leading to funding from the State of Alabama for Sight Savers America’s statewide K/2/4 follow-up eye-care program. These efforts enabled the expansion of Sight Savers America from 22 Alabama counties to the current statewide service.
2015 Artist: Allan Eddy
Allan Eddy is an award-winning 1988 graduate of the Atlanta College of Art. He is the winner of the prestigious 1987 Forward Arts Foundation Scholarship and many other awards. In 2000, Allan contracted meningitis and spent six long weeks at Emory University Hospital fighting the disease. After 2 days in the hospital Allan went totally blind, caused by optic nerve atrophy.
Allan’s family brought 15 of Allan’s paintings to the hospital. They hung his art all around. They wanted the medical staff to see Allan’s art to constantly remind them that this currently blind patient was an artist. His family hoped that everyone would make a deeper connection with Allan through his art. Maybe there would be some magic and healing power from surrounding Allan with his art. And if Allan could possibly see again, they wanted the art to be the first thing that he saw.
The consensus of 5 Emory Eye Doctors was that he would be totally blind for life or at the most have very slight light and dark distinction. When Allan had a little vision starting to return, they said he would just see some light, no more. After a little more vision returned, they said he wouldn’t be able to distinguish anything. When Allan told a doctor he could see the pattern of the doctor’s tie, they said he would be totally color blind. Then Allan started seeing colors.
After 6 weeks the meningitis was under control and Allan left the hospital extremely weak and severely vision impaired. But over the following three years and to the surprise of his doctors, Allan’s vision still kept improving a little bit at a time. His color vision continued to improve.
Now, years later, with a little sliver of vision in one eye and some color distinction, Allan has returned to his passion of painting. Since early 2008 Allan is painting mostly abstract surreal through pointillism. He also dabbles in other styles and in sculpture. His work is compared to Kandinsky, Matta, and Miro. He has shown his art in galleries, museums and juried shows. Purchasers of his paintings include Elton John and many private and corporate collectors.
Allan is more inspired; painting with more determination than ever. His palette is much brighter and his work has even more sculptural elements, reflecting the changes in his vision. Allan feels that his work is even better than before his vision impairment. Allan says “I’m a lot slower now, which is frustrating, but my impairment made me jump to the next stage in my work. I feel like this is exactly where I should be.”
2014 Recipient: Songs for Sight
Songs for Sight was founded in October 2006 by Alie B. Gorrie, a teenager living with low vision, as a way for other children and young adults with severe visual impairment across Alabama to hear “yes you can”. This unique partnership between Alie B. Gorrie, the UAB Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation, the UAB Department of Ophthalmology and the EyeSight Foundation of Alabama is committed to educating and inspiring children and their parents about the challenges and opportunities facing individuals with severe visual impairment.
Songs for Sight events have raised over $840,000 to support activities benefiting children and young adults with low vision. These funds have been used to underwrite support groups providing an opportunity for children and their parents to network with other families in order to share experiences and interact with other children facing similar challenges. These events always include an educational, peer support and recreational component, like ice skating, overnight camping, or obstacle courses.
In addition to support groups, funds are also used to provide electronic video magnifiers, orientation and mobility services and bioptic driving devices for eligible children whose families cannot afford these services. Electronic Video Magnifiers allow children to enlarge objects up to 131 times, enabling them to read, write, complete homework or even see their loves ones’ faces clearly for the first time.
In an effort to improve understanding and treatment of eye diseases that can cause visual impairment, funds have been used to purchase advanced imaging technology for the study of the eye at the cellular level.
Sight Savers applauds the commitment and passion of Alie B., Dr. Dawn DeCarlo and Songs for Sight and appreciates everything this innovative partnership has accomplished to raise awareness and to educate the community about the issue of low vision. We are honored to recognize their work through the presentation of the inaugural Sight Savers America Hall Thompson Hero for Sight Award.
2014 Artist: Jeff Hanson
Jeffrey Owen Hanson is a 20-year-old philanthropic artist from Overland Park, KS. Jeff is visually impaired from an optic nerve tumor (nick-named CLOD), associated with the genetic condition neurofibromatosis. The tumor caused severe vision loss in 2005, requiring chemotherapy and radiation. Despite his low vision, Jeff sees well enough to continue creating brilliant artwork—a “sight for sore eyes.”
A self-taught artist from age 12, Jeff can’t drive a Daytona race car, but he can effortlessly apply broad strokes of vibrant color to canvas in what has become an unmistakable signature style. Inspired by travel, Jeff’s heavily textured artwork hangs in the homes of art collectors across the globe—including Sir Elton John, Warren Buffett and Susan Sarandon. Jeff’s commissions include paintings for Fortune 500 corporations, hospitals and private collectors.
A rich spirit of philanthropy is also woven throughout Jeff’s story. He has painted and donated more than ONE MILLION dollars in acrylic canvases to over 100 charitable causes since 2006—changing the world through art. Jeff has been awarded both “Young Philanthropist of the Year,” and “Young Entrepreneur of the Year,” for his efforts.
Jeff’s business is continually diversifying, finding new ways to impact the world. Most recently Jeff’s artwork was translated to couture fashion, with models dressed in hand-painted, red carpet gowns walking fashion runways. Jeff’s inspiring story of art, philanthropy and entrepreneurship is now featured in a book, Lessons From CLOD, as well as a live motivational presentation. Jeff believes, “Every act of kindness helps create kinder communities, more compassionate nations and a better world for all…even one painting at a time.”