Stevie Wonder health: The condition that caused the Superstition singer to go blind

The Voice: Tom Jones surprised by Stevie Wonder message

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The US born Superstition singer was pronounced blind at six weeks old after the incubator he was placed in contained too much oxygen. Due to this, a condition known as Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) developed making the singer lose his sight. ROP causes the growth of the eyes to be aborted, instead causing the retinas to detach and thus resulting in blindness.

It usually affects premature infants especially those born before 31 weeks and weighing a mere 2.75 pounds or less. Usually the condition resolves without treatment but in severe cases like Stevie blindness can occur.

When the condition is advanced, the abnormal retinal vessels extend into a jellylike substance known as vitreous that fills the centre of the eye.

Despite his condition Stevie taught himself how to play the drums and harmonica at an extremely young age. Regularly listening to the radio and banging out a rhythm on any surface he could find allowed him to begin his musical career.

Appearing on David Letterman Stevie revealed the top advantages of being blind saying: “You can act like you don’t see nothing when you really do,” with a smile he added: “You can say you didn’t see that when you did.”

One thing blindness definitely hasn’t rid the singer of is his quick wit and funny nature. Appearing on The Late Late Show with James Corden in the show’s famous segment ‘Carpool Karaoke’, the pair ended up switching seats so Stevie was in the driving seat.

The singer joked: “I’ve got my license,” and although this ended up being false, Stevie started the rumours about his ability to drive while blind.

Rumours were fuelled once again when Stevie was pictured behind the wheel of a Tesla back in May 2021.

Pictured with a beaming smile the star didn’t move the car much before he switched sides again with his friend and the pair drove away.

With the miracle of modern technology, cars such as Tesla’s have an autopilot function that allows the cars to drive themselves in order to reduce accidents and help drivers who are fatigued after driving for a long while.

Last year Google also released a video showing a blind man driving a car near his home in San Jose, California. Especially in America where public transport is minimal, the idea of owning and driving your own car is what makes up a sense of independence, so for blind people the possibility of being able to participate in the activity is exciting.
Currently in the UK, you are only able to drive a car or motorbike if you have slight vision in one eye – monocular vision – as long as you are able to meet the standards for driving.

Gov.UK explains that these standards for driving include being able to read a car number plate made after September 2001 from 20 meters, and have a minimum eyesight standard for driving by having a visual acuity of at least decimal 0.5 measured on the Snellen scale.

Blind people driving may be a possibility in the future, but as of right now Stevie will have to wait and be driven by other people as his condition does not meet the requirements.

Broadly speaking there are five stages of ROP. These stages describe what an optometrist sees when they look into babies eyes.

Stage one: This is where the junction of the central part of the retina that already has blood vessels and the peripheral part of the retina where blood vessels have not yet grown is marked by a demarcation line or a flat white line. Babies with stage one ROP usually recover without needing any treatment.

Stage two: In stage two, the demarcation line is raised and is more like a ridge. Babies with stage two ROP may recover without needing any treatment as well. These babies may require more regular check-ups to monitor progress.

Stage three: Stage three is where new blood vessels start to grow out of the ridge. These blood vessels are very weak and they will cause vision problems if they start to scar. If there is also enlargement and tortuosity of the main normal blood vessels of the retina, this is known as “plus disease”. Stage three ROP with plus disease usually requires treatment.

Stage four: In stage four, the fragile new blood vessels that grow in stage three can contract (shrink) causing scarring which can pull the retina away from the back of the eye (partial retinal detachment).

Stage five: Stage five is where the retina can become totally detached from the back of the eye (total retinal detachment). This would lead to permanent loss of vision.

Possible treatment for the condition involves a laser making small burns on the retina inside the eye as well as eye drops in order to stop new blood vessels from developing.

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