Pierre Paul Thomas learned what it feels like to see his family members' faces for the very first time earlier this year.
The 68-year-old Montrealer could see almost nothing for his entire life.
Two years ago, a terrible fall put him in the hospital. The doctor mentioned they could perform another surgery — and fix his cataracts.
"Oh my God," he says. "I was so happy to see people, to come out of the shadows."
Thomas says before the surgery he had completely given up hope of ever seeing clearly. In 2006, he was declared legally blind.
"All the time it was blurry," says Thomas. "Everything was a shadow. It was very tiring."
When he was younger, he had multiple surgeries, but nothing restored his vision. He learned to use his hands — repairing bicycles and carburetors — all based on touch.
After his surgery, the first person Thomas remembers seeing is his sister, Gisele. She could hardly believe it when he called her "beautiful."
She says she wishes their parents were alive to share this experience.
"They would jump for joy," says Gisele Thomas. "They would be so happy he can see clearly."
Dr. Miguel Burnier, a senior ophthalmologist at McGill University Heath Centre, says the operation itself was a relatively common one, even if the way it changed Thomas' life was extraordinary.
"It's rare certainly, it's not frequent. We have seen, for example, patients that believe that they don't have any solutions for their case and then suddenly we do have a solution," said Burnier.
There have been some difficulties for Thomas, because throughout his life he identified objects by touching them. If he simply looks at something, he doesn't necessarily know what it is.
"I have to learn colours," says Thomas. "I reassure myself about what something is by checking with my fingers."
Now, he has to learn to recognize faces and colours, but he says it's a challenge he's grateful for.
"I believe it's a miracle," says Thomas.