Most of us have a few expectations whenever we visit our chosen health care professional, is the ability to see you, or to see what’s wrong one of yours? One young man in the USA is changing perceptions of how important sight is in the medical profession.

When Tim Cordes was 7 years old he was diagnosed with a rare degenerative disease of the cornea, that in time causes the person to lose their sight. Never one to be told he could not do something because of his inability to see, he studied jujitsu and tae kwon do, earning black belts in both, learned to walk with a guide dog, learned to use adaptive equipment, and graduated valedictorian from Notre Dame.



Even with his impressive credentials he had a hard time finding the right medical school, the University of Wisconsin was thrilled by the prospect of having him as a a student, and it turned out to be a good fit for everyone concerned.  The impressive young man graduated from Notre Dame with a 3.99 GPA, earning an undergraduate degree in biochemistry, an impressive feat for a sighted student.

He does not like to think of himself as a hero or someone to emulate, but has helped create programs to help other visually disabled students find their way through medical school using alternative ways to “see” what other students can. He looks forward to a time when people with disabilities are not noteworthy for doing the same things that everyone else does.

While he was in medical school,machinery was adapted to emit small tones, to help him find his way for intubation purposes, confirming he was in the trachea, or where he needed to be. Tools for visually disabled students include computers that read the written word for you, raised diagrams of cells, veins, and other anatomy needs, and a device called an Optacon, a small camera with vibrating pins to help feel images.

blind map

There are many tools the average visually impaired person uses in daily life that can be adapted for education, almost all computers and smartphones have text-to-speech technology that read text messages. Children often have coloring pages with raised outlines so that they can color at school, that same principle is often applied in a college setting to feel where different muscles and nerves are, what an organ feels like, or what a tumor feels like. If you know what something looks or feels like normally, it’s easier to find what is abnormal.

Married and a father, Dr. Cordes currently practices at a VA hospital in psychiatry. He has used what he has learned to help other students, even writing a chapter in a medical textbook. He has spoken at civic clubs and at the National Federation for the Blind’s annual convention, an event where the visually impaired get together for fun, the latest technology and tools, and to socialize with new and old friends.

With patience and perseverance, hard work can overcome hardship to follow your dreams, as one instructor at a school for the blind says, “There are no disabilities per se, there are abilities you haven’t learned to use yet.”


Photo credits: NBC news, NFB