A 12-year-old Sevierville boy is staying far away from fireworks this holiday after a July 4 mishap left him legally blind in one eye.
Since first picking up a football three years ago, Connor Mason’s love for the game has grown from a pastime to a passion. But looking at him now, you wouldn’t tell he plays through a disadvantage.
“I have to fix my left eye when I’m lined up on the left side of the ball,” Connor said. “I have to do it a lot more than other people do.”
Two years ago on July 4, Connor was playing football at a family gathering by Douglas Lake when a nearby firework tube tipped over and sent sparks flying into his eye.
He was sent to LeConte Hospital, and then transferred to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital where doctors told him and his mother the force of the firework had caused dangerous bleeding behind his eye.
"Connor had to keep his head at a certain degree - he couldn't lay flat,” said Connor’s mother Brandi Mason. “Because of the pressure in his head, he could have possibly lost his eyeball."
The damage could be permanent. Connor is now legally blind in his left eye, with only eight percent of his peripheral sight. Brandi said the injury is too close to his optical nerve for surgery.
"Whenever I walked in and saw my baby lying there on that bed ... it was ... it was awful,” Brandi said. “It was very scary. Thinking of it now is upsetting."
He is one of 11,000 people nationwide who face firework-related injuries each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. On average, seven of those are deadly.
"You don't realize things could happen like that. I never could have realized something like that could have happened to my son,” said Brandi.
Two years later, Connor's ambition is strong as ever. He wears a helmet shield to protect his good eye, and despite increased risk for glaucoma and cataracts, he's looking up.
"I want to go to college and play football -- maybe go to the NFL,” Connor said.
"His faith is really strong, and I don't want to stop him or hold him back," said Brandi.
Brandi hopes the injury can be a lesson to others. She warns families to listen to the warnings: use a long lighter, don't shoot off fireworks while drinking alcohol and always keep water on hand.