At first, Cam Stovall didn’t know what hit him. One moment, the 26-year-old hunter was stalking a turkey with his friend Zac. His twin cousins, Seth and Micah, were following a second bird. The next moment, Stovall’s world completely darkened and he struggled to breathe. It turns out the “second” bird was the same turkey. Seth accidentally shot Cam.
Close to 200 pellets assaulted his body, collapsing his right lung, causing his throat to swell, and instantly taking his vision.
“There was no doubt in my mind, any breath I took was going to be my last,” Stovall said.
With Micah’s help, Stovall walked up a hill where the others brought a car to take him to an ambulance. Gadsden Regional Medical Center determined UAB hospital was more suited to treat Stovall, where, after a chest tube insertion, his breathing eased. The UAB doctor told him, “You’re going to make it – your eyes are the main problem.”
He woke in the ICU blind and alone. “I needed that time to talk to the Lord about what his purpose for this was,” Stovall said. He thought of a biblical story that reminded him that Jesus was all he needed. Although he worried about employment, a future family, and driving, he decided, “What I have is my Lord and that’s enough.”
His next thought was for his cousin: “I wanted to make him feel okay.”
Mary Stovall, Cam’s mother, recalls the first surgeon told them his right eye would probably need to be removed, and that his left eye was not expected to regain any useful vision. Afterwards, she and Cam’s father, Gary, sat by themselves, away from Cam’s many visitors. “We thought about how Cam was going to live in this world as a blind man,” Mary said. Besides hunting, their son was an outstanding athlete. The Auburn University graduate and Gadsden native also loved his job as a procurement forester.
The next few days were harrowing. When doctors shined bright lights in his eyes, he had no light perception at all, in either eye. Stovall responded: “Mom, are my eyes open? They feel like they are, but I can’t see anything!”
Enter Dr. Robert Morris, a renowned eye surgeon and president of the Helen Keller Foundation. “I’m determined to get you some vision back,” he told Stovall. Added Mary: “It was the first time we had been given any hope.”
Eventually, Cam’s right eye was removed while the left underwent multiple procedures. Among them: the use of a plastic artificial cornea; a mobilize-and-move vitrectomy, which removes blood and allows work at the far back of the eye; and a corneal transplant, performed by Dr. Kristin Baines.
After one surgery, before his right eye was removed, Stovall was in a local hotel near the hospital for a next-day appointment. He woke up at midnight with excruciating pressure pain in his right eye, with his left eye still covered from the recent surgery. Dr. Morris met them at the hospital. With no anesthesia and with Cam sitting in an office chair, “Dr. Morris used a needle to block the nerves,” Cam says. The pain dissipated. Then the surgeon asked that all of the lights be turned on. He had decided to remove the left eye patch then and there.
“Open your eyes as wide as you can,” Morris directed.
“I could see his two fingers in front of me. I grabbed them,” Stovall said. He had recovered vision in half of his left eye, enough that it allowed him in the months ahead to walk and navigate steps by himself and even hunt deer successfully with a bow and arrow.
Fast forward three years.
“I just threw the first pitch out at the Barons’ game at Regions Field,” said Stovall, a standout baseball player in high school. His pitch made it all the way to Dr. Jay Glover, the person who introduced him to Dr. Morris. Stovall laughs and says he was relieved: “I didn’t want to hurt anybody by throwing it wild.”
For Morris and Glover, this first pitch brought things full circle.
“Regions helped fund a lot of our research,” said Morris, referring to the Helen Keller Foundation. “Then Cam pitched at Regions Park. That’s really poignant to me.”
The foundation’s research stems directly from patient problems. “That’s how we’ve been able to make some giant breakthroughs,” Morris said. “One rule has been that if an injured eye has no light perception, you shouldn’t explore it because the retinal nerve tissue is dead. But Cam Stovall is living, seeing proof that with surgery you can return some injured eyes from ‘black blind’—no light perception—into useful vision.”
He is still legally blind and can’t drive. He has more rehabilitation with low-vision aids ahead. Still, anyone who encounters Stovall, now 29, knows his successes will continue.
For his part, Stovall thinks he’s found God’s purpose. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have all of my eyesight back. But I would not change the accident from happening,” he said. “I have a heart for sharing this story because I feel like it encourages people.”
The Helen Keller Foundation is one of the more than 8,000 organizations Regions supports.
You can learn more about Cam Stovall at www.cameronstovall.org.