Joe Caruso: Giving Back
Joe Caruso, founder of FOCUS Wine Foundation, knows life both with and without the ability to see. His first memory is sitting in the waiting room with his mother at the Scheie Eye Institute in Philadelphia.
Joe was born with congenital cataracts that had progressed so badly that, at age three, he had become almost totally blind. As they waited for their first appointment with Dr. Scheie, Joe’s mother read a notice that said cataracts are the leading cause of permanent blindness. She knew then that she and Joe’s father had to do everything they could to save their child’s sight.
At that time, laser surgery was just being developed and was unproven. Dr. Scheie directed the Caruso family to let little Joey’s cataracts fully develop before he would perform the first procedure. This created two fully white eyes, and Joe simply could not see.
Each of Joe’s surgical procedures would require general anesthesia and almost two weeks’ recovery time. As this entire process was cutting edge at the time, Dr. Scheie took copious notes to document all he could for future reference. It took nine surgeries over a period of two years for Dr. Scheie to obtain the results he was looking for.
Joe’s final surgery at age five gave him 20/100 eyesight as long as he wore his very thick glasses. Still legally blind, he was entered into Benchmark School for students who were bright underachievers requiring additional assistance.
Joe wore thick glasses to school until he was 11. Then, the day came when he was able to wear contacts, which he says was the biggest day of his life. Having been treated differently his entire life, he finally felt like a normal student and was able to adapt to society much more easily than before.
As a young man, Joe excelled in many ways and continued to surprise his doctors with all he accomplished. He contributes his successes to his parents raising him as though he could see. Both his mother and father tell incredible stories of watching Joe overcome his fears.
In 2009, Joe had his first child, and his second in 2010. Unfortunately, his daughters Parker and Shea were both born with the same congenital cataracts as their father. Although Dr. Scheie had written in his notes that this was not a hereditary condition, when Joe’s second baby’s cataracts were the first-ever to be seen in an ultrasound, they realized it was.
For the next several years, the Caruso sisters would have more than 17 surgeries between them to save their eyesight. Joe recalls the hours spent in the waiting room of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia alongside other parents who anxiously awaited their young children to return from surgeries. Devastatingly, some children never recovered. It was then that the Caruso family committed to giving back as much as they could to support hospitals’ efforts. FOCUS Wine Foundation and its partnership with the Foundation Fighting Blindness were born.
As part of his foundation, Joe, a long-time professional in the wine business, created his own brand of California wines, called FOCUS Wines. By donating a portion of its proceeds, FOCUS Wines supports Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Scheie Eye Institute, and the Foundation Fighting Blindness. The first wine was named “Parker” Pinot Noir, and the second, “Shea” Chardonnay! These and other varietals are available in Pennsylvania through fine wine and spirits stores, which we toast for helping!
Joe had also found that high-intensity training for triathlons and IRONMAN races gave him an outlet for all the emotions of dealing with his daughters’ and his own vision issues and surgeries. He has completed two full IRONMAN races and almost 40 triathlons! Most importantly, he has not given up on his mission to help his daughters and others maintain their vision. Joe encourages his team at FOCUS Wine Foundation to be grateful for opportunities given to them and to recognize the best way to show that gratitude is to give back. Both Parker and Shea exemplify that spirit every day as they grow into beautiful young ladies who, thanks to groups like the Foundation Fighting Blindness and the Scheie Eye Institute, are able to see.
Joe, Parker, Shea, and the entire FOCUS Team are annual participants in FFB’s Philadelphia VisionWalk!