Jul 10, 2023

Blind Author with Usher Syndrome Ignites the Literary World

Beacon Stories

At the age of 22, Michael Garrigan received a life-changing diagnosis of Usher syndrome type 2. His vision gradually deteriorated over the years, and by the age of 45, he faced the reality of being legally blind. Determined to share his story and shed light on the capacity to triumph over darkness, Michael penned a remarkable memoir, “Ushered Out of Darkness,” in which he invites readers into his most vulnerable life moments and victories.

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Michael and his guide dog, Fuzz, in his hometown Lake Erie, Ohio

By Simone Robinson

“Pay attention. You’re going to tell a story someday.”

Those were the words a young Michael Garrigan heard on the football field as he huddled with his teammates. Little did Michael know the whisper of words heard only by him would foreshadow a chapter of his life that would soon unfold in the years to come.

Shortly after, he encountered the first indication of night vision difficulties, which impacted his performance on the football field.

“I noticed something strange happened on a Friday night under the lights playing high school football,” Michael says. “I missed my assignment during the game, where I never saw the defender, I was supposed to block. That glaring incident was an obvious sign of something bad to come, but I had no idea at the time what was going on with my vision.”

The diagnosis of Usher syndrome type 2 came at a pivotal moment in his life, occurring at the age of 22 when a visit for contact lenses led him to an ophthalmologist at a local clinic. In the years that followed, he embarked on a tumultuous journey in which he struggled to accept his new reality, questioned his faith in God and battled with the weight of depression.

The cover of Ushered out of Darkness, which shows a man sailing

“At a young age I was still not willing to accept that I was losing my sight, so while in denial, I hid it. For years I isolated myself from society for protection to avoid putting my trips, stumbles and falls on public display,” Michael says.

“I believed that losing my sight would display a clear sign of weakness in society,” he says. “I was afraid of what people would think, so I pre-judged people how they were going to pre-judge me.”

 Although Michael did not initially envision himself writing a book despite years of encouragement from others, an encounter with someone who recognized the impact his story could have on those who were hurting and in need of inspiration shifted his outlook. The undeniable truth of those words served as a turning point, motivating him to start the process of writing his memoir, “Ushered Out of Darkness.”

“I initially left out a lot of private details, because I was not open to letting the public know about depression and dark thoughts,” he says. “Then, it occurred to me that the book would be useless. For the story to be effective, it had to be authentic — to include things I really didn't want people to know.”

After years of internal struggles, reconnecting with God proved to be Michael’s saving grace. Embracing his faith and actively participating in local men's Bible groups enabled him to regain a sense of hope and cultivate a positive outlook on life.

Michael standing with his family at his daughter’s wedding. Right to Left: his youngest daughter Sara Jane, his son-in-law Trammell, his oldest daughter Colleen, his wife Becky, Fuzz and Mike

“The hard truth that I had to accept is that life is tough. Life was never meant to be, nor will it ever be, fair on my terms,” he says. “As soon as I came to terms with that truth, I was able to move on with my life and be on my way to attempt to finish strong on God's terms as He intended me to do.”

In November 2021, he published his book. With his wife, Becky, they prayed for “Ushered Out of Darkness” to have a positive impact on at least one person.

Miraculously, their prayer was soon answered when Jeff, a man from Texas impacted by an inherited retinal disease (IRD), drove with his wife to meet the author in South Carolina. Deeply moved by Michael’s story, Jeff offered to sponsor the audiobook format for individuals who faced challenges with reading. “Ushered Out of Darkness” is now available in three formats: hard copy, digital and audio.

“The readers response was well beyond what I anticipated,” Michael says. “I received letters from people all over the world with and without inherited retinal disorders who were moved by my story.”

Now at 60 years old, Michael’s vision loss has reached its final phase while his hearing loss has remained constant over the years. Despite this, he remains determined to find solace in the simple pleasures of life. He participates in activities that bring him immense joy each day, including running independently, slalom waterskiing behind his family’s boat and mowing his own grass.

Mike’s last time sailing on Lake Erie

“For guys like Jayden in Minnesota, David in Illinois, a young lady named Jordan in Ohio and thousands of other people around the world who are suffering from IRDs, or will be diagnosed with one, my advice is do not wait for a cure to start living your life to the fullest. Live now. Turn your weakness into a strength and inspire others.”

Michael currently serves as a resource chair for the Foundation Fighting Blindness South Carolina Chapter. He plans to utilize the Raising Our Sights program to further the impact of his writing, donating the proceeds of each copy purchased to the Foundation while actively looking for creative ways to fundraise through the program. He looks forward to becoming a grandfather in September and continuing to inspire others in the deafblind community.