Ben Underwood was born the happiest of babies, according to his mother, Anquanetta Gordon. But as her baby grew into toddlerhood, Gordon noticed something troubling about her son’s left eye.
At just two years old, it appeared that little Ben was having trouble seeing. A trip to a doctor confirmed Gordon’s hunch that something was very wrong with her baby boy.
“Ben was diagnosed with retinoblastoma,” Gordon said during a 2006 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “Cancer in both eyes.”
“That was the hardest thing to hear,” the mother admitted. At age three, Ben had both eyes removed as a last resort when chemotherapy and radiation proved ineffective.
But Ben was a remarkable young man, who put a talent on display. Daniel Kish, an expert in human echolocation, taught Ben how to use a clicking noise to fully navigate the world around him.
“I was at camp and I started clicking (my tongue),” Ben told Oprah in 2006. “It became a navigational tool.”
Ben explained that by clicking his tongue on the roof of his mouth, he could use the sound to hear objects around him. “I can find people, poles, pillars, walls, openings and doorways, drops on the floor, the curbs on the sidewalk — any object that it comes in contact with,” the boy explained.
Ben successfully used echolocation to live a fast-paced, athletic life of skateboarding, bicycle riding, rollerblading and playing basketball, to name a few. He walked down flights of stairs like it was no big deal, strutted around his school’s campus just like everyone else.
When Ben was 15, he learned his eye cancer was likely to return. Gordon recalled having a serious conversation with her son about the possibility of death, and Ben was unfazed.
“Ben, you might die,” Gordon lamented. Her son responded with an unwavering belief that his soul belonged to Christ, and his life would continue in heaven.
“You just be ready to meet me there,” Gordon recalled Ben telling her. “Not once did he say, ‘Mom, I don’t want to die.’ Not once did he cry,” Gordon expressed.
In January 2009, just before his 17th birthday, Ben passed away from retinal cancer.
While his mother acknowledged the painful season that followed, she found incredible hope and encouragement knowing her son was a huge inspiration to others — and still continues to inspire to this day.
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