Riverhead doctor helps secure donations to buy low-vision device for teen

Fifteen-year-old Savon Liggins has not yet learned how to read, but that might change very soon.

A former Wading River resident who recently relocated to Central Islip, Savon has autism and brain injuries from seizures. He is also legally blind. His visual impairment and other disabilities have made it impossible for him to learn letters and numbers.

He and his family are trying to buy an Acrobat Mini, a low-vision device with a camera connected to a 13-inch screen that magnifies printed material and helps with distance viewing.

Savon was referred to Dr. Jeffrey Williams of Riverhead by Stony Brook University Pediatrics. Dr. Williams decided glasses would not be sufficient to help Savon.

“Back in the day, the only thing they gave for people with low vision was basically a big magnifying glass or binoculars, and that was it,” Dr. Williams said. “Now we have these beautiful electronics.”

The Acrobat Mini sells for about $2,500. An extended warranty adds another approximate $500 and the vision therapy training sessions cost about $1,000, brining the cost up to about $4,000, Dr. Williams said. High price tag aside, the device is portable and runs on a battery that lasts six to seven hours, making it ideal for Savon to take to school.

“It would help him a lot,” said his mother, Shari Jones. “It’ll help his visual motor skills in school. He has a lot of trouble.”

Money was a major stumbling block, however. The family could not afford the device and insurance would cover only up to $600. Dr. Williams pleaded with the insurer, but the company would not budge. On Monday, the insurer reached out to Dr. Williams to request more information and may consider covering it, he said on Tuesday.

“In order for him to learn to read, this is the only device that can help him,” Dr. Williams said. “This is the only way he can probably survive in school and advance.”

Luckily for Savon and his family, the story has multiple happy endings. One anonymous woman offered to send a check covering the entire cost of the device, although Dr. Williams noted he hasn’t received it as of Tuesday afternoon, and many others wanted to donate as well. Dr. Williams now hopes to be able to get Savon two devices — one for home use and one for school. The home device is a larger Acrobat that is plug-in only and features a larger screen and retails for $3,895, Dr. Williams said.

John Theissen, founder of John Theissen’s Children’s Foundation, is among the donors. He said he’s happy to contribute because it is the foundation’s mission to help underprivileged children on Long Island. The organization, based in Wantagh, has been around for 25 years.

Savon went to Dr. Williams’s office six weeks ago to test out the Acrobat Mini and was able to trace out smaller letters, which he had not been able to do before.

“It was a pretty cool moment,” Dr. Williams said. “It kind of reinforced why I became an eye doctor — to help people see.”

When the devices are delivered, probably sometime in August, Dr. Williams will invite all the donors to his office to present them to Savon.

“I have faith in humanity again,” Dr. Williams said, laughing. “It’s really great that there are people who have a heart and that people are willing to give so generously.”

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Photo credit: Rachel Siford