A man with a rare sight condition who could not see his bride’s face when he proposed has described the moment he saw her clearly for the first time.
Charity worker Nathan Tree, 31, was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy – a rare degenerative condition, in January 2009.
By the time he started dating his now-fiancée Ginny Matthews, 29, in late 2017, he could no longer distinguish facial features.
But he has now received an early wedding gift after being invited to test some hi-tech specs, which restore the wearer’s central vision using advanced magnifying technology.
He said: “I lost the ability to recognise the faces of friends and family nearly five years ago.
“After proposing, I thought I’d never be able to take in the full vision of Ginny walking down the aisle – but now I will.
“There’s been so much negativity in 2020, but if there’s one positive to come of it all, it’s that I’ve able to see Ginny’s true smile and will see my bride in high definition on our big day.”
Nathan only wore reading glasses until the summer of 2008 when, learning to drive aged 19, his instructor advised him to see an optician.
He could not read a license plate from 20 metres away, as required by UK law.
Then in his second year of business management studies at Southampton’s Solent University, he was referred to University Hospital Southampton in November 2008.
He had a number of tests for conditions including glaucoma and in January 2009 an electroretinogram – an eye test that examines how well the retina is working – identified cone-rod dystrophy.
Causing deterioration of central vision over time, it occurs in roughly one in 30,000 people worldwide, according to charity Retina UK.
With no current treatment available, Nathan was told it could eventually rob him of his sight.
He said: “I put it to the back of my mind and pretended it wasn’t really happening.
“At that point, I was only struggling to see things in the distance and it wasn’t really impacting my day-to day-life.”
As Nathan finished his studies, his sight slowly deteriorated.
Struggling to read small print and black writing on a white background by 2015, he altered all his devices – such as phones and computers – to improve matters.
The real blow came by the start of 2017, when Nathan was struggling to recognise familiar faces – even that of his mum Mandy, 56.
He said: “It started off with me walking into things on the street.
“Then, one day, my friend came over and was very annoyed, telling me I’d completely ignored him.
“It was very pertinent, because I had been aware of him, I just didn’t realise who he was.
“I’d managed to get by until then, but sadly you can’t invert the colours on someone’s face to help you recognise them.”
“From then on, my central vision was like looking through clouds – hazy and unclear.”
Nathan became withdrawn and depressed and started avoiding social situations, locking himself away for the best part of a year.
He said: “I saw the doctor and was offered pills, but antidepressants were never going to fix my sight.”
With his family’s backing, he got support from the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind and began seeing a specialist counsellor in April 2017.
Finally, after nearly 10 years of living with cone-rod dystrophy, Nathan finally accepted his condition.
Beginning mobility training in the summer of 2017, he adapted to life with visual impairment – taking courses in how to use a cane and later on learning to read braille.
By September that year, he began working for the Oxfordshire Association for the Blind as an adviser.
Around the same time, Nathan started a friendship with an old acquaintance – Ginny.
They had known each other slightly at school and he had only childhood memories of her face, yet they fell in love.
They bought a house together in Wheatley, Oxfordshire, in September 2018 – and three months later, Nathan proposed.
He said: “I hadn’t seen her since we were children, but I was able to get an impression of how she looked from my peripheral vision – not that it ever reflects reality.
“And anyway, finding the right person was more about what was on the inside than the outside.”
Nathan started to accept life without full sight and even has a guide dog, Maisy, a black Labrador.
Then, at the start of 2020, he was approached by UK tech company OXSIGHT, to see if he wanted to test their latest smart Onyx glasses – which will cost £1,500.
He took his mum along, and was amazed at the difference they made to his vision.
He said: “I could see a lot more detail and I could read, which is something I haven’t been able to do for many years.
“I saw my mum’s face for the first time in five years and I made a joke about how much she had aged, which didn’t go down well.
“I didn’t meant it. It was very emotional. I wasn’t prepared for it – she looked beautiful. It wasn’t something I thought I missed until it came back. It hit me really hard.”
With a second testing session in February, after the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded in March, further appointments were put on hold – along with Nathan and Ginny’s May wedding, which was postponed until 2021.
Then, in June this year, Nathan was sent a pair of Onyx glasses to try out for an entire week.
And seeing Ginny clearly for the first time was an experience he will treasure forever.
“It was just perfect,” he said. “Ginny matched up perfectly to how I saw her in my head – it was brilliant.”
Now he cannot wait to see her walk down the aisle at their May wedding.
He said: “I did three testing sessions for OXSIGHT in total, and each one was better than the last.
“They’re scheduled to come out at some point next year and I’ve been told I have a pair with my name on for the big day – I can’t wait.”