The Blind Woman Who Sees Only in Shadows

We can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and suddenly be blind, to live in a world that was pure darkness.

It’s one thing to be born blind, however, losing your eyesight as an adult is vastly different. It involves adjusting, accepting, and adapting. For those who go blind later in life, it’s usually the changes that are the difficult part, not necessarily the vision loss itself.

When Milena Channing was left blind by a stroke at the age of 29, the life she once knew was completely altered. After waking up in the hospital, she realized that everything was pitch black. She couldn’t see a thing.

Though her eyes were in perfect condition, Channing’s stroke had damaged the majority of her primary visual cortex, the part of the brain that receives visual information from our eyes. In many cases, a stroke destroys cells in the visual cortex, leaving people with big blindspots on one or both sides of their vision.

But Channing’s condition began to perplex doctors when she told them that she could see things in motion, such as raindrops outside her window, her daughter’s hair blowing in the wind, or the steam rising from a hot cup of coffee. Initially, countless doctors snubbed her accounts of being able to see things moving and told her that she must be hallucinating.

Experiencing problems with vision following a stroke is not uncommon, but for her to regain some sense of sight after what she went through seemed impossible.

It wasn’t until she met Dr. Gordon Dutton, an ophthalmologist, that she finally got some answers to her puzzling visions.

Dr. Dutton recalled a story he once heard about a World War I soldier who could only see things in motion after suffering from a bullet wound to the head. The condition is actually called Riddoch’s phenomenon, named after Scottish neurologist George Riddoch.

According to NPR, this is the reason why Channing can only see things in shadowy movements:

It turns out that one area of her brain ‘s cortex — an area reserved specifically for processing motion (visual area MT, for middle temporal area) — had been preserved. So even though information wasn’t going through the primary visual cortex, somehow it was still getting out to the part of the brain that can register objects in motion.

In spite of this, she still struggles with the fact that she can’t identify a face — not even her own daughter’s.

Watch the video above for more information on Milena Channing’s shocking condition.