Like Angels on Wings’: The Chicago Lighthouse

The year was 1997.

Sally Higginson and Betsy Brint, the “former Schwartz sisters” of Highland Park, as many refer to them, were celebrating Mother’s Day with their families. With lots of small children and distracted mothers, the only one paying attention to the eight-week-old baby in a carseat was the bachelor brother.

“Hey, when do babies start focusing? I’m knocking myself out here with keys and a rattle,” Higginson remembers him saying. “We all said, `We don’t remember!’” laughs Higginson. “Betsy said she’d ask her pediatrician at the baby’s next check-up.”

Not long after that, the Brint family discovered that their baby boy had Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a condition that inhibits development of the retina in utero. He was legally blind.

“The doctor said there was no treatment, and he handed my sister a card to the Lighthouse,” Higginson says, referring to the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired ( “My sister describes it as an out-of-body experience where she watched a poor couple learn there was nothing that could be done for their child.”

They contacted the Lighthouse, which has a Birth to Three Early Intervention Program.

“They come to your home like angels on wings,” Higginson says. “What you don’t realize is that 70 percent of all stimulus comes in through your eyes, so much of a child’s development is a result of visual stimulus—rolling, crawling, reaching and stretching, bonding by looking into mom’s eyes—all a result of visual stimulus.”

Executive Director Janet Szlyk, via email, says, “We’re widely regarded as the nation’s most comprehensive social service agency assisting people who are blind or visually impaired.”

“We’re very proud that for the first time in our history, we have opened a comprehensive site outside our main facility in the city. The new Chicago Lighthouse North at 222 Waukegan Road in Glenview is enabling us to reach out to north suburban residents who are visually impaired,” Szlyk says.

From 10 a.m. – 2:45 p.m. on Wed., June 27, the Associate Board will host the 26th Annual House and Garden Walk. Funds raised will benefit the Birth to Three Early Intervention Program. Tickets are $60 in advance.

The happy ending? Alan Brint is now a 15-year-old student at Highland Park High School, and a big Lighthouse success story.

Looking for ways to help? Volunteers are welcome to serve as readers at CRIS Radio, assist in the seniors’ program and provide other tasks. For more information about volunteer opportunities at The Chicago Lighthouse, please contact Dick Carlson at (312) 666-1331 ext. 3141 or [email protected]