- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The young medical student was nervous as he slid the soft, thin tube down into the patient’s windpipe. It was a delicate maneuver — and he knew he had to get it right.

Tim Cordes leaned over the patient as his professor and a team of others monitored his every step.

The anesthesia machine was set to emit musical tones to confirm the tube was in the trachea and carbon dioxide was present. Soon, he heard the sounds. He double-checked with a stethoscope. All was OK.

Several times over two weeks, he performed this task at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. His professor, Dr. George Arndt, marveled at his student’s skills.

“He was 100 percent,” Dr. Arndt says. “He did it better than the people who could see.”

Tim Cordes is blind.

He has mastered much in his 28 years: jujitsu, biochemistry, water-skiing. Any one of these accomplishments would be impressive. Now, there’s more luster for his gold-plated resume with a new title: Doctor.

Tim Cordes has earned his M.D.

There are only a handful of blind doctors in this country. But Dr. Cordes makes it clear he could not have joined this elite club alone.

“I signed on with a bunch of real team players who decided that things are only impossible until they’re done,” he says.

That’s modesty speaking. Dr. Cordes finished medical school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the top sixth of his class, earning honors and admirers along the way.

“He was confident, he was professional, he was respectful, and he was a great listener,” says Sandy Roof, a nurse practitioner who worked with Dr. Cordes as part of a training program.

Without sight, Dr. Cordes had to learn how to identify clusters of spaghetti-thin nerves and vessels in cadavers, study X-rays, read electrocardiograms and patient charts.

He used a variety of special tools, including raised line drawings, a computer that simultaneously reads into his earpiece whatever he types, a visual describer, a portable printer that allowed him to write notes for patient charts and a device called an Optacon that has a small camera with vibrating pins that help his fingers feel images.

“It was kind of whatever worked,” Dr. Cordes says.

That’s been his philosophy much of his life. Dr. Cordes was 5 months old when he was diagnosed with Leber’s disease. He wore glasses by age 2, and gradually lost his sight. At age 16, when his peers were getting their car keys, he took his first steps with a guide dog.

Though he spends 10 to 12 hours a day in the lab, Dr. Cordes also carried the Olympic torch when it made its way through Wisconsin in 2002.

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