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Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to Seeby Robert Kurson
Crashing Through is the remarkable story of Mike May, one of only a handful of people to gain sight after being blinded in an accident at age three. Robert Kurson (of Shadow Divers fame) does a wonderful job depicting both May's extraordinary life up until the surgery and the fascinating and surprising changes that vision brings. I literally talked about this book to my friends for weeks.
Synopses & Reviews
In his critically acclaimed bestseller Shadow Divers, Robert Kurson explored the depths of history, friendship, and compulsion. Now Kurson returns with another thrilling adventure — the stunning true story of one man's heroic odyssey from blindness into sight.
Mike May spent his life crashing through. Blinded at age three, he defied expectations by breaking world records in downhill speed skiing, joining the CIA, and becoming a successful inventor, entrepreneur, and family man. He had never yearned for vision.
Then, in 1999, a chance encounter brought startling news: a revolutionary stem cell transplant surgery could restore May's vision. It would allow him to drive, to read, to see his children's faces. He began to contemplate an astonishing new world: Would music still sound the same? Would sex be different? Would he recognize himself in the mirror? Would his marriage survive? Would he still be Mike May?
The procedure was filled with risks, some of them deadly, others beyond May's wildest dreams. Even if the surgery worked, history was against him. Fewer than twenty cases were known worldwide in which a person gained vision after a lifetime of blindness. Each of those people suffered desperate consequences we can scarcely imagine.
There were countless reasons for May to pass on vision. He could think of only a single reason to go forward. Whatever his decision, he knew it would change his life.
Beautifully written and thrillingly told, Crashing Through is a journey of suspense, daring, romance, and insight into the mysteries of vision and the brain. Robert Kurson gives us a fascinating account of one man's choice toexplore what it means to see — and to truly live.
"Blinded in a childhood accident, Mike May never hesitated to try anything — driving a motorcycle, hiking alone in the woods, downhill skiing — until the day, when May was 46, an ophthalmologist told him a new stem-cell and cornea transplant could restore his vision. As Esquire contributing editor Kurson (Shadow Divers) relates, the decision to have the surgery wasn't easy. May, always a 'pioneer in his heart,' had never really felt he was missing anything in life. The surgery also had a few risks: the restoration of sight might only be temporary; the immunosuppressive drug was highly toxic; May might never adjust to the changes having sight would cause. Previously, patients had become depressed, their lives ruined because, while it might seem strange to sighted people, these patients found that the idea of vision was better than the reality. May went forward, only to find that, even though his eye was now perfect, his brain had forgotten how to process visual input. Fascinated by colors and patterns, he had difficulty discerning facial features, letters, even men from women. How May adjusts to his medical miracle, living with the disappointments as well as the joys, makes for a remarkable story of courage and endurance. Correction: The price for Rickles' Book: A Memoir by Don Rickles and David Ritz (Reviews, Apr. 2) is $24." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Mike May was just 3 years old, a curious little kid, when he found a jar with some powder in it, added water, and caused a chemical explosion that destroyed his vision. His family took him several times for corneal implants in his one remaining eye, but they never worked. He was told he would never see again. But his feisty mother made sure nobody cut him any slack. There were to be no schools for... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the blind in his future. The May family moved to California, to a school where the blind could be mainstreamed. Young Mike tried everything. He became an expert at vacuuming carpets. He learned to ride a bike. 'Mike took tetherballs to the face and dodge balls to his groin. He bloodied his nose, cracked toes, and broke fingers. While running to first base in kickball, he stepped on top of the ball, fell backward, and bashed his head on the pavement. He was unconscious for 20 minutes and rushed to the hospital. When he returned to school the next week, he played again.' May grew up to be a man of action. When still a youth, in cahoots with another blind kid, he stole a motorcycle and tried to drive it to school. Another time, alone, he took his sister's car out for a drive. It's hard to know what value to place on such behavior. To some, these exploits might seem supremely brave; to others, they might suggest not 'crashing through' so much as a crashing self-absorption, a supreme indifference to people or things he might run into. Whatever the interpretation, he took the way of adventure in the first half of his life. He worked for the CIA until a superior gently pointed out to him that a blind secret agent might not be the most inconspicuous spy in the world. He volunteered for a charitable project in a remote village in Ghana, where he hauled buckets of dirt for bewildered villagers until he contracted malaria, nearly died and got sent home. He took up downhill skiing and then speed skiing. He excelled in the 1981 World Winter Games (later named the Paralympics), taking home three gold medals. Then he and his sighted companion crashed the Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, in which a group of amputees were skiing in a demonstration. May passed himself off as a member of the media, interviewed amputees at the top of the slope, and then — with his sighted companion — managed to ski down the run. 'May had become the first blind Olympic skier, the author says. Not really, though. He just skied down a slope at the Olympics. Let's not leave out the girls. As soon as he hit college, May found plenty of girlfriends, due in large part to his guitar-playing ability, says the author, whose earlier nonfiction book, 'Shadow Divers,' spent more than 20 weeks on the best-seller list. Soon May 'had noticed in himself a pronounced reluctance to be without a backup girlfriend. He tried never to lie to these women, preferring secrecy instead, but knew it was dishonest all the same, and he did not like that part of himself.' (It would seem to me a blind two-timer is still a two-timer, but what do I know?) 'Crashing Through' is really two books — a fairly ho-hum account of a guy who gets away with a lot of things and manages to draw attention to himself by any means, and a second, genuinely fascinating account of the nature of human vision and how a person who has been blind for the greater part of his life manages to see (or not) once he gets his vision back again. This part of the story begins when Mike May tags along with his wife as she goes to see a San Francisco optometrist for some new contact lenses. The optometrist has an ophthalmologist for a partner, who asks to take a look at May's eye and says, 'I think we can make you see.' The procedure involves two operations: transplanting stem cells that will protect a new cornea and keep it clear, and then transplanting the cornea itself. In 1999, this was a rare procedure. The downside was that the drug taken to prevent rejection could cause cancer. Of course, Mike May opts for the operation. On the very day the bandages come off, the doctor asks him, 'Can you see a little bit?' He can. His new cornea is clear, his retina and optic nerve are fine. But the operative words in that question turn out to be 'a little bit.' Although he can perceive color and motion, his depth perception and ability to identify objects, particularly faces, don't seem to function. He experiences sensory overload and exhaustion from just trying to make sense of the things he 'sees'; he becomes frustrated and even depressed. Going skiing, for instance, is far more difficult for him than when he was blind. A researcher finds that the brain cells that integrated visual information at the beginning of May's life have in a sense gone AWOL. They aren't available for use. How May employs his other skills to make up for this deficiency, how he stops taking his drug, then has to endure steroid injections directly into his eye, then recovers, make up the last part of the story. Robert Kurson is a vigorous, straightforward writer. He spends too much time trying to make Mike May into a fearless hero when he might just be a guy who wandered into the right doctor's office at the right time. But the material about how human vision is understood to work is terrific, making the book a first-rate piece of medical reporting." Reviewed by Richard Lipez, who writes detective fiction under the name Richard StevensonLisa Zeidner, a professor at Rutgers University in Camden; her latest novel is 'Layover'Carolyn See, who can be reached at www.carolynsee.com, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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The bestselling author of "Shadow Divers" returns with a riveting story of exploration, mystery, and the discovery of an unknown world--this time about one man's incredible odyssey from blindness into sight.
About the Author
Robert Kurson earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, then a law degree from Harvard Law School. His award-winning stories have appeared in Rolling Stone, the New York Times Magazine, and Esquire, where he is a contributing editor. Crashing Through is based on Kurson’s 2006 National Magazine Award-winning profile in Esquire. He is the author of Shadow Divers, and he lives in Chicago.
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