South Georgia man damaged retina looking at 1972 eclipse - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

South Georgia man damaged retina looking at 1972 eclipse

Fred Karst (Source: WTOC) Fred Karst (Source: WTOC)
EFFINGHAM CO., GA (WTOC) -

We're just days away from the solar eclipse and if you want to watch, you need to protect your eyes.

An Effingham County man knows all too well what can happen if you don't and hopes his story saves someone else's sight.

Events like the “Eclipse 101” session at the Oglethorpe Mall Library help teach children about the phenomenon, and a Gulfstream engineer hopes his story reminds people to protect their eyes on Monday.

For as long as he can remember, Fred Karst has loved space.

“Ever since I was 4 years old. I remember watching Alan Shepard’s launch, and it was like I was hooked on the space program,” Karst said.

So, when a partial solar eclipse happened in 1972, it’s no surprise a 15-year-old Karst was excited to see it.

“I probably stared at it about 30 seconds to a minute. On and off, both eyes. Kind of looking like this and like this,” Karst said.

But he watched without protective glasses, and that short amount of time was enough to leave Karst with permanent eye damage.

“Both eyes, eclipse burns. So, basically, what is that? It’s like in flash photography, you see that little swirly thing after the flash. I see it all the time. It never goes away. A little worse on the right side than the left side, but it’s always there. And that’s really from staring at the sun,” he said.

Optometrist Dr. Jim Beisel says with the moon shading the sun, it’s easy to forget harmful rays aren’t blocked.

“It tricks you into the illusion that the lowered light levels are tolerable when you’re staring at the sun with that incremental sliver, (but it) is definitely bright enough cause damage,” Dr. Beisel said.

Which Karst knows all too well.

“It’s not debilitating. I tell people the reason I’m an engineer is because I couldn’t be a pilot or an astronaut because I don’t have correctable vision,” Karst said.

Dr. Beisel and Karst agree it’s especially important to pay attention to children during the eclipse.

“It’s so tempting for a child to look at the sun, and they don’t have any sense of inherent risk,” Dr. Beisel said.

“Even though they had said you could damage your eyes, like I said, we looked at it, and we didn’t feel any immediate pain. It really wasn’t hurting like it normally does for the sun. It was neat to look at, (but) long range effects,” Karst said.

Karst says he thinks the best way to see the eclipse is with a box pinhole projector, like kids made here Wednesday at the library, with these glasses or on TV.

Personally, he says he hopes it’s cloudy on Monday. 

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