SOUTH LOS ANGELES — For the first time in more than 30 years, Lisa Garrett could see on Easter morning.
She celebrated the return of her vision by singing in the choir at Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church on West Adams Boulevard, the church she attends with he husband, Roland Stallworth.
Asked what it is like to regain your sight, Garrett said, “It’s like I was frozen, stuck in time. Everything has changed so much.”
Garrett lost her sight in 1985 after a shooting incident.
Her son was playing outside their home when she sensed trouble, she recalls.
“I saw the cars coming down the street and they screamed ‘West side!’” Garrett said. Trying to protect her son, Garrett was shot in the head and came close to losing her life.
“The bullet went in the left side of my temple and it is still in my head,” she said.
She pulls out a recent CT scan of her skull; the bullet and fragments are close to her brain.
“It’s so scary for me to see this, I can’t believe that’s me.”
After the shooting she spent six months in a coma. Garrett, now 53, had to learn to do everything again, walk, talk and eat.
“I was like a 2 year old and thank God my husband was there to help me; he is my guardian angel.”
Stallworth said he never lost hope.
“I believe in miracles, they happen everyday,” he said. “I knew she would see again, you just got to have faith. There is something more out there, things you can’t explain; it’s God.”
Despite being blind, Garrett always kept her spirits up. She continued to sing and recorded an album. She also won many singing competitions.
“I used to sing backup for many singers, and after the accident it was hard to keep going,” she said. “At moments, I didn’t want to do it anymore. All I could see was darkness, spots and some blurry shapes. I couldn’t do my makeup, pick out my clothes. It was so hard,” she said.
That miracle her husband knew was around the corner finally happened last October.
Thanks to Dr. Lawrence T. Goodwin, a Westchester ophthalmologist, Garrett regained her sight. It took eight surgical procedures to restore her vision.
“It’s been years that I’ve been taking care of her, but the first few visits I couldn’t open her eyes because she was so severely light sensitive,” Goodwin said.
Previous doctors thought she would never regain her vision because of the multiple eye conditions that had developed. She had corneal scarring, cataracts, glaucoma and abrasions on her cornea.
“So when you have all those problems, you have to start with the most important one, which in this case was the glaucoma, because if the pressure damages the optic nerve which is in back of the eye and pressure comes from the back of the eye ball, it gets harder and harder and mashes on the nerve. It’s like when you sit on one side of your leg and it goes to sleep, same thing happens with the eye,” Goodwin said.
The next step was a corneal transplant, which actually worsened the cataracts.
“You take the worst things first and then go from there,” Goodwin said. “You have to prepare the patient for what is to happen and understand what the game plan is.”
Her last procedure, the laser cataract surgery, was the breakthrough to her sight. Now her vision is about 20/40 and she is on a regular regimen of eye drops and wears glasses.
“I’m a strong believer that if you do nothing, you get nothing,” Goodwin said. “We had to try, this was my dream as a kid and it’s very fulfilling to see your patient going from blind to being able to see.
“The first day she was able to see is a God moment, because you never know how it will turn out.”
“All I could say was ‘Wow! Wow!’ I was speechless when they look my surgical pads off. I could see!” Garrett said.
Shortly thereafter, she saw her son, daughter and grandchild.
“I hadn’t seen my son in almost 30 years; I felt so blessed and happy. God is good. I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.
She celebrated by attending the annual Taste of Soul Family Festival in the Crenshaw District. An unexpected turn of events at the festival led to her winning a dance competition.
“I was sitting in the audience and they took me up on the stage and they did a dance contest and I won,” Garrett said. “They played 70s music and I was like ‘Oh yeah, I’m all about this!’”
A few months ago, Garrett and Stallworth joined Redeemer Missionary Baptist Church. They asked her about what activities she was interested in and she jumped with excitement once they mentioned the choir.
“It was so wonderful to be part of the choir,” she said about singing on Easter Sunday. “We sang so many songs, I can’t even keep track of how many.”
Sherri Hamilton, who is also in the choir, is grateful she met Lisa.
“I remember my first moving experience I had with her,” Hamilton said. “A baby was being baptized and the choir moved to the sides of the church so the whole congregation could witness the moment. I could see tears in her eyes, so we moved up closer to watch. She grabbed my hand and held it as we watched. She really changed my outlook in life and reminds me to value what we have.”
Colors are a big part of the holidays that most of us expect to see.
“I just got to see Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day; I love all the red,” Garrett said. “Now seeing those Easter pastels, the candy bags, the flowers and the praise dancers were so cute! They just danced their little hearts out for Jesus.”
The praise dancers are a group comprised of children and adults. Like the choir, they perform during church services, however the youth only get to participate every second Sunday and special holidays, such as Easter.
“I think that was her highlight of the Easter service,” Hamilton said. “She connected with the children. It brought her so much happiness to watch them perform.”
Garrett said she is adjusting well to her new vision. Stallworth doesn’t have to dress her anymore or pick out her clothes.
“I love being able to pick out my own style and colors,” she said. “I hate fluorescent colors, blah! Too bright. I tend to stick to neutrals.
“Look at my nails. They’re lovely beige. I can see them! I love doing my nails and make-up,” she exclaimed. “Now I want to see the White House and It’s a Small World at Disneyland.”