Jan. 28, 2006 — -- For 26 years Joyce Urch of Coventry, England, listened to her family grow -- five kids, 12 grandkids, three great-grandkids.
She listened, but she couldn't see them. Blinded by a hereditary illness, Joyce was resigned to a life of blackness.
Then one day, she was rushed to the hospital with chest pains. Doctors described her as lifeless. She had suffered a heart attack and kidney failure.
Then Urch woke up after a lifesaving operation and opened her eyes. She could see.
"I shouted, I did," Urch said. "I said, 'I'm back, I'm back.' "
Her daughter Carol O'Beirne called the rest of the family, including Eric Urch, Joyce's husband of nearly 50 years. He looked a little different than Joyce remembered.
"I thought to myself, he was so lovely at one time," Joyce Urch said. "Now he's getting old and gray."
"She leaned forward," Eric Urch said, "and she just looked at me and said, 'Haven't you got old.' And I said, 'Wait 'til you have a look in the mirror.' "
She soon learned that a lot of things had changed.
In 1979, when she went blind, there were no escalators in Coventry. On her first visit to a mall, she was amazed by these 'moving staircases' and also amazed by the stores where husband Eric had been buying her clothes all these years. Her other surprises included traffic lights, new road signs and new cars.
No one really knows why Joyce Urch can see again.
"It's obviously unexpected," said Martin Been, Joyce Urch's cardiologist. "It's a fantastic side effect of what happened -- a rather dramatic way for it to happen but it's wonderful. I wish I knew why."
Joyce's family doesn't care why.
"There's no other answer than a miracle, to us," O'Beirne said. "We really do find it a miracle, don't we? To have our mum and to have her seeing is wonderful, it really is."
Dr. Deepinder Dhaliwal, director of the Laser/Vision Center at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who has not treated Urch, offered two theories as to why she can see again.
"The most common form of reversible blindness is cataracts, a clouding of the lenses," Dhaliwal said.
"You can dislocate cataracts with trauma to the head," she added. "I really think she must have had cataracts, very dense cataracts, and when they were resuscitating her, they may have shook her or bumped her in such a way as to dislocate those cataracts."
Dhaliwal's other theory is that Urch was suffering from functional blindness, where something going on in the brain -- as opposed to the eyes -- blocks the person from seeing.
Perhaps, in Urch's "altered state of consciousness, those blockages were then removed and she could see again," Dhaliwal said.
Dhaliwal said she had never seen a case of blindness reversed without surgical intervention, but had read about such cases. Urch's case, however, differed from those in its time span.
"The timetable for that visual recovery is days or weeks, and not nearly three decades," Dhaliwal said.