CUH photography professor overcomes tragic accident

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Professor David Ulrich has learned a tremendous amount about vision because of losing his right eye.

Imagine a runner without a leg. A writer without a hand. A photographer without out an eye. Think about how differently your life would be with the one thing you need to do what you love.

In 1983, Photography professor David Ulrich was clearing a dead tree from his yard in Massachusetts when he suffered a serious impact injury that cost him his vision in his dominant right eye. It was a photographer’s worst nightmare.

Ulrich overcame the debilitating injury and continued to be a professional photographer, publishing his own photography book. He has been a professor since 2011 at Chaminade and has been teaching at University of Hawaii at Manoa since 1995.

Ulrich was chopping wood in his backyard when a small branch approximately three-quarters of an inch in diameter and over 3 feet long hit him in the eye. He didn’t realize the severity of his injury until he was in the emergency room and the doctor on duty requested for an ophthalmologist. Ulrich was told he would need surgery immediately to see what the doctors could do to save his eye.

“At that point, I understood that my eye had been seriously damaged, and I became terrified of the possible consequences,” said Ulrich.

During approximately eight hours of surgery, the surgeon was able to remove fragments of the wood from Ulrich’s right eye. With all the damage that had been done, Ulrich had to undergo additional cosmetic surgery to repair all the tissue that had been damaged on the right side of his face during the accident.

“Emotionally it was very traumatic, and the next week was pure hell,” said Ulrich.

The week following his surgery, the doctors had told Ulrich that he wouldn’t get back his light perception because of the retinal damage. His eye would be removed and replaced with a glass eye.

“How many times I have gone back and replayed the event where I lost my eye and thought to myself,  could I have been more careful? Was I being reckless?” said Ulrich. “I have tendency to do things very quickly. I don’t want to say it’s a regret, but it really is a sense of questioning whether I could’ve approached what I was doing more carefully.”

However, his traumatic event did not stop him from working. Ulrich published a book in 2005, almost 20 years after his accident. The book is called “The Widening Stream: The Seven Stages of Creativity.” It has sold around 3,000 copies. He wrote a second book about dealing with seeing and lessons he has learned from losing an eye. The book is currently with his agent who is trying to sell it to publishers.

Ulrich said he learned a lot through this tough incident in his life, which helped him to thrive as a photographer and teacher.

“It taught me a tremendous amount about vision, rather than getting in the way of photography, I think it helped it,” Ulrich said. “I certainly became a lot less petty. Many things I would think about or care about before I lost my eye, you know seemed really insignificant.”