San Ramon: Colors amaze colorblind folks who don new spectacles

'I had no idea what I was missing until I tried the glasses'

Farhan Sareshwala, a 23-year-old software developer from Pleasanton, didn't know he was colorblind until he was tested in school as a young teen.

"I just thought I was bad with colors," said Sareshwala, who attended Pleasanton Middle School and Foothill High. "I would mix them up, but I assumed I wasn't paying close enough attention."

He remembers being somewhat insulted when he was diagnosed and told he saw everything through a sort of "puke" filter.

Then recently he was fitted in San Ramon with EnChroma glasses, which improve color vision.

"When I tried the glasses on, I could see what they meant about the filter," Sareshwala said. "I had no idea what I was missing until I tried the glasses."

He began to enjoy going to grocery stores where he was surprised by the vivid colors.

"Bell peppers were a fun experience," he said. "The green was so much more bright, and the red ones were vibrant."

Colorblind people have trouble differentiating certain colors and shades of colors, which leads to a hard time coordinating their clothes, for instance, thinking a pink shirt is white. Foods may look gray and unappetizing; crosswalk signals may look white rather than orange.

After a friend of his read about the color-enhancing lenses, Sareshwala emailed the company offering to try them out, and EnChroma contacted him. He agreed to speak out about his experiences in exchange for a pair of glasses he received from optometrist Michael Duong at San Ramon's Optometric Center & Eyewear Galleria.

Duong said he has been practicing since 1989 and always was frustrated not to be able to help patients who were colorblind.

Colorblindness is caused when the red and green photo pigments of the eye overlap, Duong explained, so colors look the same. A primitive contact lens that separates the wave lengths of light could sometimes help a little.

But when Duong heard about the new technology being tested at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, he followed the clinical trials and was impressed with the science.

The breakthrough came about when Don McPherson, who has a doctorate in glass science from Alfred University, noticed certain transformative properties on color appearance that resulted from lens formulas he had invented for laser surgery eye protection. He began to do more research with optical filters.

In 2010, McPherson teamed up with Andrew Schmeder to co-found EnChroma with the goal of developing these discoveries into something that could help colorblindness. EnChroma launched the first version of the lens in 2012, with a major update to the technology in late 2014 that made the product accepted by the professional eye care community.

"These glasses use a special filtering technology to help red/green colorblind people see more of the full spectrum of color," Duong said. "I contacted EnChroma about a year ago, and we had an open house event and had the community come in and learn about the condition.

"It's mostly men, and guys don't go to the doctor unless it hurts," he continued. "They don't know what they're missing until they come out here."

EnChroma glasses boost color vision, but they do not correct it 100% and it varies with each individual. The cost is from $350-$500 for the frame and lenses, which can incorporate other corrections as well.

"We have seen excellent results," Duong said. "It works 80% of the time. I have had patients come to tears in my office -- it takes about 15 minutes for them to realize what they've seen. One kid, about 7 years old, was just, 'I see that color!'"

"This is a breakthrough, cutting-edge technology, and I am honored to be a part of this," he added.

For Sareshwala, the colorful change in his vision was immediate. He also noted that even when he is not wearing the glasses, he knows what things should look like so he sees things differently. People's faces are much rosier than he'd known before, he observed.

'I have a shirt I thought was blue for many years, but it is actually purple," he said. "But I still like it."

Sareshwala especially enjoys his walk to the BART station in Berkeley each morning.

"There are so many flowers -- now I see why flowers are considered such beautiful things," he said.

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