Meet the Formerly Blind Boy Competing in the Special Olympics – 5 Years After His Adoption from a Chinese Orphanage
In 2011, Faye Corman was rushing through a New Jersey train station after a visit to the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia with her 3-year-old blind son, Jon Paul, when the boy suddenly stopped to stare at the platform’s concrete floor.
“Jon Paul, let’s go! We need to hurry and get home,” Faye recalls telling him while urging him to keep moving. Just when she was thinking that she might have to scoop him up in her arms, something incredible happened: Jon Paul reached down and picked up a shiny silver gum wrapper.
And that’s when Faye knew.
The son that she and her husband, Michael, had recently adopted from an orphanage in China could finally see. Although surgeons at Wills had been skeptical about a positive outcome, Jon Paul’s innocent gum wrapper examination proved his second eye operation was a success.
Jon Paul Corman walking at home with a cane prior to eye surgery
Now, five years later, Jon Paul, 8, is preparing to compete in gymnastics this weekend at New Jersey’s statewide Special Olympics. It’s a feat that few could have imagined for a boy who just years before had been bumping into walls and falling down stairs.
Jon Paul Corman as a baby prior to adoption
“I was so grateful and delighted to become the father to a child who happens to be blind, because I could guide him in the ways, norms and mores of thriving, and not just surviving as a person who happens to be blind,” Michael tells PEOPLE.
He and Faye flew to Fuzhou, 400 miles northeast of Hong Kong, to bring Jon Paul home. Within days of arriving back in New Jersey, they took their new son to the internationally known Wills Eye Hospital to have him examined.
The Corman family
“We honestly thought that the doctor would say, ‘He’s a cute kid, but he’s never going to be able to see anything,’ ” Faye tells PEOPLE. “But the fact that they were willing to try gave us hope.”
Doctors were skeptical at first, though, whether their best efforts would be a success.
Jon Paul Corman wearing an eye patch after surgery
When the patches came off and Jon Paul didn’t indicate that he could see, Faye took her son home, praying that his vision would eventually “kick in.”
Then when the incident with the gum wrapper happened: “I just stood there and cried,” she says. “It was a miracle, a gift.”
Curious about what activities Jon Paul might enjoy, Faye enrolled him in a Special Olympics “young athletes” program, where he learned everything from how to shoot a basketball and hold a hockey stick to run through an obstacle course and jump on a trampoline. Then, after he turned 8 last December, she put him in a gymnastics class and it quickly became evident that he had a future in the sport.
“He picked it up really fast and just loved it,” says Faye, “so we decided to see if could qualify for the state games. When he made it his very first time out, we couldn’t believe it.”
“I love gymnastics because I get to do tricks and my coaches are nice,” said Jon Paul, who is finishing up the second grade.
He now excels at the pommel horse and rings. Although still legally blind because he can only see people at close distances, physical therapy lessons at school five days a week have helped him to develop incredible upper body strength, says his mom.
“He’d never have been able to do something like this if he couldn’t see,” Faye tells PEOPLE, “and for that, we’re so grateful.
“How do you possibly thank somebody for restoring your son’s eyesight?” she adds. “There are simply no words.”