Jun. 5—For David Tegtmeier, becoming blind showed him a new way to experience life.
"I think the biggest lesson is that I learned to see the world unseen, which is a beautiful side of things that most people never actually truly appreciate," he said. "So I would encourage anybody to close their eyes and just listen and smell. ... Pay attention to (sounds and smells). They're just as amazing as sight."
But Tegtmeier and his wife, Danielle, never let the October 2018 chemical accident that damaged David's cornea and left him without vision be the center of his story.
"We never focus on the accident and what we went through medically wise. It's always what we learn from it," Danielle said.
The couple owns and operates Liquid Art Winery west of Manhattan.
"I'm awfully blessed and lucky to have any sight because the doctors that saw me, everybody said I'd never see anything ever again," David said. "And I wouldn't have it if wasn't for all the specialized doctors."
David's sight has come back gradually this year after a number of surgeries and procedures. Dr. Edward Holland of the Cincinnati Eye Institute, who treated him, said David's condition was the third worst he had ever treated.
"There was a very high possibility that he would never regain any eye sight back, but it's obviously worth fighting for," Danielle said.
After about a year of healing, David received a specialized STEM cell transplant from his older sister in late 2019. This treatment stabilized and rebuilt the eye.
"Without my sister, I would never been able to see," he said.
It was a miracle because her cells genetically matched David's, the couple said.
"They told us that in some cases, people have half a dozen or more siblings and none of them will be (genetic matches), so they didn't want to get our hopes up that it was even possible," David said.
Because the transplant was successful, David received a cornea transplant in January 2020, which further restored some vision.
"And, boy, was that a glorious day when our doctor said that it was looking good and he was eligible for a cornea," Danielle said.
David is eligible for another one this year.
"That's why we never told his story up until recently because there was so much unknown," Danielle said. "It wasn't until this last January when we released the wine label about the experience and felt comfortable enough talking about it."
"If we can help inspire people or help people with their medical journey, then we want to be that outlet for people," she added.
Liquid Art Winery introduced the 20/20 wine series in honor of David in March. The wines include Humility, a cabernet sauvignon, Hope, a reserve chardonnay, Perserverance, a petite pearl, and Humor, an unoaked chardonnay.
"And so the wine labels, the biggest point was not focus on blindness, but everybody needs those words of hope and humility," he said.
Danielle said David is never out of the woods, but keeping positive is the key to moving forward.
"We take every single day as a huge blessing because we just don't want to go backwards," Danielle said.
David still goes to Cincinnati for eye appointments.
"Everybody looks at my story and it catches their attention because I went blind," Dave said. "But everybody has just as major of things going on in their own lives. Everybody knows somebody with some medical problem that's going through something. My story isn't that special. My story is just one people want to hear because it seems more special because I went blind and nobody can comprehend what that must have been like, what it was."
David said he wants people to value their vision.
"Appreciate eyesight or any sight at all because you don't know how special it is and how specialized it is until you don't have it or until you have to deal with it," he said. "Anybody that has had any eye surgeries or eye complications understands, you appreciate it when you have it."
In June 2021, David said he is feeling great and is very thankful for his vision. The couple has exciting things on the horizon as they are expecting their second child this December. They also just celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.
"We've learned what's important and there's a lot of things like having another baby that we thought that might not be in our future anymore because of the accident and stuff," Danielle said. "So I think we're both feeling pretty damn good."
They have one daughter, Savannah, who turns 3 this month. Savannah was key for David in his recovery.
"I'd say she was definitely Dave's best medicine, for sure," Danielle said about their daughter.
"She was my sunshine in the dark," David added.
Danielle said David was the most positive person following the accident.
"Anyone else that probably would've went through what he went through, there's no way they could have been as positive as him," she said.
David added he wouldn't have been able to get through it all without his wife and daughter.
"I would say that I would never had that attitude if it wasn't for her and our daughter, being there and doing everything," he said. "She got thrown the worst curveball. She had to double time and take care of me and our daughter and our business. So she's the hero here."