Cam Stovall sat in a field, leaning against a fence post, completely blind and convinced that each breath he took would be his last.
The morning had begun like any number of days for the 26-year-old self-proclaimed hunting “addict,” but had taken a tragic turn when he was accidently shot, pellets penetrating his right eye, hitting his left eye and peppering his throat and chest, collapsing his lung.
Sharing his story with students, faculty and staff at Troy University on Wednesday at the annual Helen Keller Lecture, Stovall recounted the events of that fateful April day in 2014, his long road to recovery that has included 19 surgeries and the many people he has encountered who made that recovery possible.
“There I was sitting there, completely blind, in excruciating pain and having trouble breathing,” Stovall said. “Siting against that fence post, I began thinking about life. I was 100 percent sure that my next breath would be my last.”
From the site of the accident, Stovall was taken to Gadsden Regional Medical Center and then on to the University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital, where he was placed on a ventilator. As he began to recover and the ventilator was later removed, Stovall’s first words were truly representative of his positive attitude in the face of tragedy – “God’s working on me.”
Stovall walked for the first time five days after the accident and was later scheduled for a light perception test that doctors said would indicate the chances of him recovering any of his sight.
“The doctors told me if I passed the light perception test that there might be a chance of me seeing again,” Stovall said. “I failed it with flying colors. I could see no light at all.”
Stovall began trying to adjust to the thought of living out his life blind until Dr. Robert Morris, renowned eye surgeon, founding physician of Retina Specialists of Alabama and president of the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education, entered the picture.
“Dr. Morris called my cell phone and said he was interested in taking over my case,” Stovall said.
After 19 surgeries, Stovall now has a prosthesis in his right eye and 10 percent vision in his left eye, which has enabled him to play golf, go hunting and throw out the first pitch at a Birmingham Barons baseball game in 2017.
Dr. Morris said it has been the research done through the Helen Keller Foundation that has enabled those with serious eye injuries such as Stovall to regain some of their vision.
“We have a particular interest in fixing eyes that others gave up on, that is eyes that have no light perception after injury, like in the case of Cam Stovall,” Dr. Morris said. “He was told he would never see again. What we have changed is the paradigm. You no longer can abandon the eye that has no light perception after injury. You close the wound, you go in, explore the eye, remove the blood, find the nerve tissue and have a direct inspection to determine whether that eye can see again. Still, in many major American cities and around the world, there are surgeons who do not believe this is possible. There are many eyes that are removed without exploration or left to shrink without treatment.”
Stovall said he would be forever grateful to Dr. Morris and the other surgeons who helped him regain sight in his left eye. And while he still faces challenges, Stovall said having the proper attitude helps him face life’s ups and downs head on.
“Faith plays an important role in my life,” Stovall said. “If you have a good attitude and learn to laugh at yourself, you can deal with adversity when it comes. We will all experience things we didn’t expect, but with the proper attitude, we can turn those things around and find the blessings in them.”
The Helen Keller Lecture Series, which began in 1995 as the vision of Dr. and Mrs. Jack Hawkins, Jr., was initiated to call attention to and raise awareness of the challenges faced by those with physical limitations, particularly those affecting sensory ability. Through the years, the lecture has also provided the opportunity to highlight those who have devoted their careers to meeting the needs of the sensory impaired, and to celebrate the collaborative efforts and partnerships of Troy University and the agencies and individuals who serve these special individuals.
This year’s lecture was sponsored by Troy University and the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education with continued support from the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, the Alabama State Department of Education and the Alabama Department of Mental Health.