Teen overcomes visual impairment to reach for stars

Brendan Cavainolo isn't letting his condition stop him

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's rare in some ways, but a reality for so many. Almost a half-million people in Florida are legally blind, and nearly 30,000 of them are under 18.

Beyond the person who can't see, vision loss affects jobs, and it affects families and friends.

News4Jax met a Mandarin teenager who is trying to turn his illness on its head and is literally shooting for the stars.

Brendan Cavainolo, 18, isn't the first visually impaired musician, but he wants people to know that anyone with vision loss, like him, can play guitar, run track or do whatever they want.

"It affects I can't drive," Cavainolo said. "It hurts when I try to go to school and I look at a board and I can't see it, so I have to use special accommodations just to look at things at school or even at home too."

His positive attitude and determination come in no small part from his mother, Lisa Pleasants.

"I wanted everyone in the world to know that no matter what disability holds somebody back from, there are accommodations that can be made so that they can do whatever they want to do in life," Pleasants said.

Pleasants is a carrier for X-linked juvenile retinoschisis. When her son was diagnosed as an infant, she decided she'd make a difference and created MOMS for Sight.

Now that Cavainolo is a high school graduate, he isn't letting his condition stop him. He's a black belt in karate and an honor roll student and he's headed to Central Florida in the fall to pursue aerospace engineering.

"So I want to eventually go into research and development for a company like SpaceX or Boeing, and work on rockets to hopefully get us off of this earth," Cavainolo said.

Cavainolo is signed up for a study involving gene therapy and hopes that one day his condition will be cured. In the meantime, he's not letting the big fear of losing his sight completely stop him from doing almost anything.

"I just live my life as normally as I can and hope it doesn't happen," Cavainolo said.

About 70 percent of adults with visual impairments are unemployed. But Cavainolo works at a local Wendy's and seems to love it.

MOMS for Sight is a nonprofit working to advance research for retinal degenerative diseases and to let people know that, with just a few accommodations, visually impaired people can be fully contributing citizens. To learn more, visit momsforsight.org.

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