Ben Pierce was born four months premature, and has a condition called retinopathy of prematurity. As he grows, he’ll gradually lose his vision.
Heidi Thaden Pierce says she spent the first few years of her son’s life in denial.
“He went full steam ahead as if he had perfectly normal eyesight,” she said. “That’s been a little bit challenging to me to watch as a mom and we’ve had a few collisions because of it.”
Eventually she accepted her son's diagnosis.
“Over the years the doctors convinced me, 'You need to prepare for this, and you need to prepare him as well,'" she said.
Now aged nine, Ben is aware that he’ll one day lose his sight completely. Before that happens, he’s created a list of sights he’d like to see, including the Northern Lights.
That meant travelling from north of Dallas, where he lives — something that recently became possible thanks to an Alaska Airlines pilot who heard about his dream.
Heidi says the look on Ben’s face under the Alaskan night sky was unforgettable.
“They were really beautiful,” Ben said of the Northern Lights. “Like watercolours painting the sky. Yellow and green. No blues or reds, though.”
Ben still has a wish list of sights he’d like to see, including the Grand Canyon, which the family plans to visit next week.
Next year, they’ll go to Britain and Paris, also on the list, thanks to a donation of air miles.
“We feel some urgency for him to see these things,” Heidi said. “And we’re thankful for the outpouring of support from everyone.”
Asked what it might be like once he loses his sight, Ben says, “it’s gonna be really dark.”
Ben says he'll savour his Northern Lights experiences for years to come.
“It will make me really happy when I’m not able to see.”