A former X Factor contestant was given the gift of sight for her birthday when miracle glasses allowed her to see her daughter’s face clearly for the first time.
Professional artist Kayley Storey, 33, was just 15 when she was diagnosed with rare Stargardt disease, an inherited eye condition affecting an area of the retina known as the macula and reducing central or detailed vision.
While she refused to let it hold her back – auditioning for the 2009 X Factor alongside Olly Murs and getting to the final 12 girls – she relied on her HGV mechanic husband, Ryan, 35, to describe even her favourite TV shows to her. And when their daughter, Ivy, was born last December, she could not see her face clearly.
But on August 22, Kayley, of Gillingham, Kent, says she had the best birthday ever, thanks to a pair of special glasses which enabled her to at last see Ivy properly.
She said: “It was magical. I was lent the glasses to try, but if I can get a pair, it’ll change everything. I can watch Ivy in her Christmas plays and do her homework with her.”
Kayley first realised something was seriously wrong with her eyes when she was 15 – going to the doctor when she could no longer see the board clearly in lessons.
She said: “First I couldn’t see the board, then I noticed my teachers’ faces disappearing, so I went to the optician.
“My first two tests were inconclusive, then I was diagnosed with Stargardt disease.
“It was a real shock for my whole family, as we have no history of it.”
Left unable to focus on objects or people, Kayley found the condition very difficult to deal with.
She said: “It’s like someone has poured a big tub of glitter in the middle of my eye.
“It’s really isolating. If I’m in a room full of people, I don’t know what’s going on or how people are reacting.”
Despite her difficulties, she was still determined to achieve her dreams and, aged 20, auditioned for X Factor singing Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers.
“I started singing because it was a way of expressing myself,” she said.
“If I hadn’t been diagnosed with Stargardt disease I would never have started singing in front of people. I guess, in a way, I can’t see the audience, so I don’t get scared.”
Then, in November 2018, she met Ryan on a dating app – tying the knot under lockdown restrictions in September 2020, when she was 25 weeks pregnant.
“We got engaged in December 2019 and originally planned our wedding for April 2020,” she said.
“We had invited over 100 people, but when Covid hit we had to postpone. I fell pregnant and we decided to have a small wedding of 30 people in September 2020.”
She added: “It was perfect. Having less people made it much easier, so it actually worked out perfectly.”
But, despite the couple’s love story, Kayley was hesitant about having a child and potentially passing her condition on.
“The condition is genetic,” she said.
She added: “I was apprehensive about having children, as I was worried about them having the condition. But speaking to Ryan I realised it was going to be ok.
“He said that if that if we created someone like me then it was worth having even more people in the world.
“From that moment, I knew I wanted a family with him.”
Giving birth to beautiful baby Ivy, now eight months, in December 2020, Kayley was over the moon and accepted that she would never see her newborn’s face in detail.
“I had prepared myself for not seeing Ivy clearly,” she said.
“I’d accepted what my vision was like, but I was nervous taking care of her, as they’re such delicate humans at that age.”
She added: “Ryan did everything at first, but then I adapted, and it became second nature.”
So, on her 33rd birthday on August 22, 2021, Kayley was over the moon when tech start up company, OXSIGHT lent her a pair of their special Oynx glasses, so she could see the world in detail for the first time in years.
Available for pre-order in the UK, the smart glasses cost £1,499 plus VAT – although low vision aids are VAT free for those eligible. They work by digitally enhancing the wearer’s remaining sight.
“It was honestly amazing to see my loved ones in the room,” she said.
“It was just a breath of fresh air to be able to communicate with them properly to see exactly what was going on.
“I just couldn’t stop staring at Ryan and Ivy’s blue eyes.”
She added: “I think having this disability in life can feel quite isolating.
“It’s hard to read a room of people, so having the glasses, I felt like my old self was back in the room.”
Best of all, Kayley could see all her baby girl’s features clearly for the first time.
“It was amazing reading to Ivy,” she said.
“I used to really love reading and now I can’t read any books or magazines. Even walking down the street I can’t read any signs.
“To sit and read to Ivy was special as it felt so normal.”
Now Kayley is determined to own a pair of the special specs as soon as she can.
She said: “I think about the future and how different it would be with these glasses.
“I’d be able to help with Ivy’s homework, or just watch a film with my family.”
She added: “I currently paint how I see the world. My work is very abstract, but I think it’s a way of expressing my vision loss. Even seeing colours from far away is tough.
“At the moment, Ryan describes what’s on TV to me as we’re watching it, so I know what’s going on.
“But if I can get a pair of these glasses when they go on sale for the future, I’ll be able to watch Ivy at her Christmas play or cook easily.”
She added: “I love being a mum it’s so amazing, and it really was the best birthday present to be able to see my little girl’s face for the first time.”
Dr Rakesh Roshan is CEO of OXSIGHT, says the company’s mission is to “transform the lives of those living with low vision”.
He said: “Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK, affecting more than 600,000 people and with an aging population there is ever more need for solutions to help this community.”
He added: “That is why we’re extremely excited to introduce OXSIGHT Onyx to the UK now. These smart glasses can turn the clock back on sight loss, and we’re holding specialist clinics in the coming months to allow more people, like Kayley, to experience the benefits for themselves.”
And Cathy Yelf, Chief Executive of the Macular Society, says the trial results have been “very encouraging.”
She added: “Macular disease is a devastating condition. While there is currently no cure, we welcome any advances in technology that can help give those living with it back the ability to see the things they miss the most.”
To find out more about OXSIGHT Oynx, go to www.oxsightglobal.com/connect
To see Kayley’s website, go to https://www.kayleyrstorey.com/