Few people have the perseverance and pluck to write a book. Imagine doing so without use of arms, hands, or even voice. One woman on life support has written a book using only her eyes—and she’s using it to help other people.
Ozlem Ozalkan went to the hospital 13 years ago. The young Turkish woman was experiencing a loss of power in her hands.
Doctors diagnosed her with amyotrophic (A-my-o-TRO-fik, “without muscle nourishment”) lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. When muscles lack nourishment, they waste away. ALS affects the brain too. Sufferers gradually lose control of their voluntary muscles.
Today, ALS prevents Ozalkan from walking, speaking, breathing, or eating. She has been on life support machines for about eight years. Ozalkan can still see, hear, and think normally. However, she cannot purposefully move any part of her body except her eyes.
Those eye movements—blinks and gazes—are how Ozalkan wrote her first book, Life Without a Body. Ozalkan uses an eye tracker, a device that enables visual writing.
An eye tracker sends out a type of infrared light. The eye reflects that light, and the tracker’s cameras pick up those reflections. The device then calculates where you are looking.
The book includes an autobiography and her poems. Her brother, Besir Ozalkan, calls the book “extremely emotional.”
“This is not a book written in five to six months, but a book that took her around three years by touching every letter with her eyes,” he says. “It’s like when an ant is building its house, moving materials from one place to another. It is miraculous.”
Besir says his sister’s determination to share her thoughts proves “what a person can do even while he or she is in bed.”
He adds: “When you read the book, you think about why we exist in this world and what are we supposed to do.”
Thinking about being and purpose is a worthy endeavor. Christians know that God made humans in His own image to know Him, love Him, and display Him to others. Humans exist because of God and for God’s glory. (Isaiah 43:7)
Ozlem’s interests go beyond writing. She also takes part in volunteer projects, including donating for water wells in Africa. Besir credits the wells as part of her motivation: bringing the water she cannot drink to those who need it. Part of the income from her book sales will go toward building wells. Another part will go to orphans.
“This book and the wells she opened indicate her devotion to life,” Besir says. Ozlem also hopes to refurbish her eye tracker. Who knows? Maybe she’ll write another book!