Over the weekend, reported a story about a blind student, Tim Cordes, who's about to earn his M.D.:

Without sight, Cordes had to learn how to identify clusters of spaghetti-thin nerves and vessels in cadavers, study X-rays, read EKGs and patient charts, examine slides showing slices of the brain, diagnose rashes -- and more.

He used a variety of special tools, including raised line drawings, a computer that simultaneously reads into his earpiece whatever he types, a visual describer, a portable printer that allowed him to write notes for patient charts, and a device called an Optacon that has a small camera with vibrating pins that help his fingers feel images.

The article says he's got "Leber's Disease" -- I thought at first that meant Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, the mitochondrial DNA disorder. But his symptoms and onset would be atypical (diagnosed at 5 months, completely blind by 16 -- LHON tends to hit in the twenties, and usually spares some peripheral vision.) Browsing pubmed, I learned about Leber's Congenital Amaurosis, which is even rarer, with potentially systemic problems.

This is a remarkable accomplishment, yet Cordes seems really modest and down-to-earth about it all. There are other reports about blind doctors practicing, but Cordes is different because his disease struck before medical school. Even with the tools mentioned above, and other details from the article, I can't really imagine how he experienced third and fourth year. Even with sight, I often felt like I went through clerkships flying blind.

The article leaves me to surmise that he's going into research -- there's no talk of residency, and he's finishing up his PhD work after he gets the MD. If he doesn't practice, it would be a loss -- he could have inspired a lot of patients.

Update: in Kevin's comments on this story, a litany of living blind practioners is presented. Written by a former classmate of a blind med student. I love blogs.