GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Amid the darkness of COVID-cast shadows, Harold DeGroot’s family pulled off a surprise that brightened the 90-year-old’s outlook – literally.
It was a silver lining that illuminated DeGroot’s world in a way he had never before experienced.
The Iowa native, who now lives at Sentinel Pointe Retirement community in the Grand Rapids area, was born with a type of red-green color blindness called deuteranomaly.
The condition makes certain colors – greens, yellows, oranges, reds and browns – appear similar, especially in low light.
People with deuteranomaly, who are referred to as deutans, can also have difficulty telling the difference between blues and purples or pinks and grays.
DeGroot didn’t become aware of his color blindness until he moved to Michigan at age 18 and failed the vision portion of his driving test. He was able to obtain his driver’s license once it was determined he could at least decipher between red and green.
Still, DeGroot later depended on his wife of 65 years, Arlene, to layout matching outfits for him.
After she passed in 2014, DeGroot’s daughters developed a number coding system for his clothes so he could coordinate his shirts and pants independently.
Colorful visit with a surprise twist
On April 5, DeGroot’s family surprised him with an especially colorful visit from the parking lot at Sentinel Pointe.
In March, when assisted living centers closed their doors to visitors to better control COVID-19, Harold DeGroot’s daughter, Lynette Ellis, began creating chalk-drawn messages for Sentinel Pointe residents.
But on that Sunday in early April, with the help of Sentinel Pointe staff, the family presented DeGroot with a gift to help him see those messages like never before.
Sentinel Pointe staff led the 90-year-old grandfather of 12 to the balcony overlooking the parking lot, where family members stood with balloons and uplifting messages.
A few minutes later, the staff presented him with a gift from his family – a pair of glasses to put over the top of his regular ones. The specially constructed glasses allow people with color-blindness to see hues they normally cannot.
Looking out, it took DeGroot a minute to process what was happening.
“(It was) a complete surprise!” DeGroot said later, describing the moment he realized what he was seeing.
With special glasses, colors “brighter, more distinct”
“I can tell the difference between more colors now and they are much brighter, more distinct!”
DeGroot was grateful to his family and staff members at Sentinel Pointe for going to such great lengths to give him a gift like no other.
DeGroot’s family, including his daughter Lynette, are especially thankful for the caring employees of Sentinel Pointe. One staff member, Sherry Granzotto, even made sure to film DeGroot’s reaction from the balcony.
Reflecting back to childhood, DeGroot remarked that growing up during the Depression, he didn’t have the opportunity to color with crayons or experiment with paints. He believes his color blindness would have likely been discovered earlier if there was the same emphasis on color as there is now.
While DeGroot knew most of his life that he had color-blindness, he did not discover exactly what kind until a year or so ago.
That’s when Dreyson and Bryce Byker, two of DeGroot’s grandsons who also have color blindness deficiency (CVD), decided to have Harold take an online test to determine his type.
Harold and his daughter and grandsons have a long-standing Saturday morning breakfast tradition, and -together- they conducted the test over breakfast. Results described Harold’s condition as strong deutan.
Grandson wanted him to see “colors he has missed out on his entire life”
In March, just as the COVID-19 outbreak descended on Michigan, Dreyson Byker, Harold’s oldest grandson, was in a car accident.
“(It was) an incident that led me to reprioritize and think about how quickly life can be taken from us,” Dreyson said later.
“Combined with the COVID-19 outbreaks hitting the nursing facility in Washington in particular, I had to come to terms with the possibility that my 90-year-old grandfather with a strong history of pneumonia could be impacted. This outbreak has caused some hard discussions within our family and for us to face the uncomfortable topic of mortality. I decided to stop thinking about the expense and order him a pair of glasses specialized for his particular CVD. I also knew I was going to be working against a deadline as far as the facility accepting outside packages. My mom had been visiting Sentinel Pointe and writing uplifting messages to the residents and staff in bright-colored chalk, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to surprise him with a visit from his family and also the ability to really see the colors he has missed out on his entire life.”
Lynette Ellis, Harold’s daughter, commented on the COVID-19 related policy changes.
“Fortunately, in our circumstance, my dad is an introvert, but he also cherishes his time with his family. When the changes went into effect and I could no longer visit him, I felt so helpless. I worried, like others have been also, about our loved ones functioning without us. Really the staff is doing a fabulous job of filling in and keeping him busy. I enjoy talking to him on the phone and hearing about how one of the staff members stopped in to say hello and drop a cup of coffee off. Of course, all of us without access to our loved ones are feeling some frustrations. But we also understand the necessity of the new protocols,” she said.
Harold DeGroot’s grandson, Dreyson Byker, is looking forward to the day restrictions are lifted.
“I’m definitely excited for our first walk outside and being able to actually experience the glasses with him,” said Byker. “(His wife, Arlene) was in love with flowers and birds. Those are the two things I’m most excited for him to see up close and in color.”
Byker said his grandfather is constantly thanking him for the gift that allowed the 90-year-old widower to see vibrant color for the first time.