The Jets had just returned to New York after a 28-26 victory at Buffalo on Sept. 23, and Wesley Walker, their All-Pro wide receiver, couldn't wait to get home to celebrate. He'd caught three of Pat Ryan's passes for touchdowns, the Jets had improved their record to 3-1 and Walker was off to the best start of his eight-year NFL career.
As Walker headed down a corridor in La Guardia Airport, he turned to teammate Bobby Jackson and said, "Hey, buddy, would you please put some drops in my good eye." Walker, who's legally blind in his left eye because of a congenital cataract, had experienced blurriness in his right eye during the game.
Jackson inserted the drops; Walker blinked a few times and walked on. Half an hour later the two were on the Long Island Expressway driving toward Walker's home in Dix Hills, N.Y. Roadside signs were becoming increasingly blurry to Walker. That night, when he was in bed with his wife, Judy, he could barely see 10 inches beyond his nose. By the next morning, "I saw rainbows radiating off the sunlight," he says. Walker began to panic. "All I knew is that I'd tried new eye drops," he says. "And now, I could barely see.
"So many good things have happened to me that I'd always wondered how I'd react to bad things. I thought, 'What if I have glaucoma and am going blind?' And I thought about all the things I'd miss."
Later that morning, Dr. William Fagan, a Long Island ophthalmologist, diagnosed the condition as iritis, an inflammation of the iris. Fagan found that Walker had secondary glaucoma, often associated with iritis. Tests also detected a slight tear in the left retina. "With the right hit," Walker says, "I could get a detached retina."
Fagan put Walker on yet another type of eye drops. The glaucoma symptoms disappeared, and the vision in his right eye cleared up.
In last Sunday's 17-16 victory over Kansas City, he was seeing well enough to catch five passes for 66 yards and now is tied for second in the AFC with five TD receptions ( Miami's Mark Duper is first with six) while he's sixth in catches and tied for ninth in yardage.
"Wesley's amazing," Fagan says. "For all practical purposes, he has one eye. He has light perception in his left eye, but no true depth perception. His peripheral vision gives him balance. He can sense motion out of the side of his eye. "I've seen a lot of people have congenital cataracts, iritis or glaucoma, but they aren't receivers in the NFL."
Walker's talent has always amazed people, especially his father, the late John Wesley Walker, who first became aware of his son's defective vision when Wesley was eight.
"My dad noticed my left eye drifting while we were playing catch," Walker says. "A specialist said there was no guarantee that surgery would be successful, that even with a contact lens and big, thick glasses, my vision would at best be blurry. I decided then to get by on my peripheral vision.