Seizing the Opportunities
Savannah was just a year old when she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer found primarily in very young children. Knowing how serious her cancer was, her parents chose to have her right eye removed and to replace it with a prosthetic eye. Thankfully, this left her cancer-free. What makes Savannah's story particularly unique, however, is not what happened to her, but how she's managed to mold her experience into a calling of hope. Savannah has deep roots in the Lowcountry, but due to her father's career, she was actually born in Scotland and lived for a time in Indonesia before her family moved back to the United States. She then lived in Los Angeles for a while before settling in the Hilton Head area, her mother's childhood home. After graduating from Heritage Academy in 2006, she attended the College of Charleston. Always creative and artistic in nature, she then entered the prestigious Parsons The New School for Design in New York City to study interior design. During this time, she began having problems with her prosthetic eye because it had shifted. In addition, her eye color had changed from the blue it had been when she had her initial surgery as a young child. Therefore, after she graduated with a BFA in interior design, her father asked her if she would like to come out to LA, where he now lived, to consider getting a new custom eye made. She agreed, and ultimately underwent surgery for a custom hydroxyapatite eye (made of coral) at a place called Advanced Artificial Eyes. Her intent had been to secure a job in interior design in LA after she recovered from her surgery, but her experience was so successful that, after her recovery, she asked her ocularist, John Stolpe, if she could job shadow him. With her design background, she was particularly interested in the design side of making the eyes. This ultimately led to a full-time job there, where Savannah now works as a digital imaging specialist. She describes her job as being very craftsmanship-like and notes, "We're different in the field; we're the only ones who make irises digitally. We customize from scratch for each person, and the detail is impeccable." As she speaks about her work, her enthusiasm and dedication are obvious. "I'm really blessed to have a job I love to do," Savannah acknowledges. One of her favorite parts about her work is "getting a chance to see people from all walks of life. It's a rewarding job. I've grown up with monocular vision," but, she explains, many of her patients haven't. They have to adjust to it, but "they meet me and think, 'Oh my gosh, she can do it,' and it gives people hope." She says in some ways, she's "the poster child for the business," and calls her job "the good that came out of tragedy." In her free time, Savannah likes to travel, and hopes one day to go back to both Scotland and Indonesia, among other places. As one would expect of someone with her background, she loves to be creative, whether it's doing graphic design and marketing on the side, keeping up with interior design trends, or picking up new hobbies like sewing. Savannah speaks fondly of South Carolina and says she gets the urge to come back every three months or so, adding, "I think I'll always be bicoastal." She even dreams of having a home on both coasts some day and possibly opening an ocularist's office here. "My heart and soul are in South Carolina," she says. Someday, she'd also love to bring what she does to those who don't currently have that option, whether it's because of finances or because they live in areas that don't offer options for obtaining custom eyes. She mentions possibly even expanding her work to other countries in the future, and says that she feels like she is "about to jump into something bigger and better." One thing is certain: Savannah, clearly excited about her work, is ready to seize every opportunity life brings. UP CLOSE The origins of the modern prosthetic eye: When glass became scarce during WWII, Frederick Lewis was commissioned by the United States Army to create prosthetic eyes out of a new material, which led to the hydroxyapatite eye. Savannah now works for Lewis' grandson, John Stople. Other interesting gigs: Savannah has interned for House Beautiful and has done print ads for Pink. Pivotal local art teachers in her life: Candace Lovely and Robert Stanfield On country stuff: Savannah laughs when she mentions her love of things like fishing, shooting, and riding ATVs. She calls it all "country stuff." Area favorites: She loves the May River, the Sandbar, the beach, and oyster roasts. She muses about "the salt marsh smell and the smells that bring you back to places in time."