Chris Downey lost his sight in 2008 after brain surgery. But instead of letting blindness ruin his career, Downey said it's given him insight into aspects of design he's never thought of before.

At age 45, Chris Downey had pretty much constructed the life he'd always wanted. An architect with a good job at a small housing firm outside San Francisco, he was happily married, with a 10-year-old son. He was an assistant little league coach and avid cyclist. And then, doctors discovered a tumor in his brain. He had surgery, and the tumor was safely gone, but Downey was left completely blind.

What he has done in the 10 years since losing his sight, as a person, and as an architect, can only be described as a different kind of vision.

Downey lost his sight after an operation to remove a benign tumor in his brain. "Lots of people, friends that were architects ... would say 'Oh, it's the worst thing imaginable, to be an architect and to lose your sight,' but I quickly came to realize that the creative process is an intellectual process," said Downey. "I just needed new tools."


Chris Downey: She says, "Oh, and I see from your chart you're— you're an architect, so we can talk about career alternatives."

Lesley Stahl: Career alternatives, right away?

Chris Downey: I hadn't been told I was officially blind for 24 hours—  and— 

Lesley Stahl: And she's saying you can't be an architect anymore— 

Chris Downey: Yeah, and she was saying we could talk about career— alternatives. I felt like these walls were being built up around me, just like, "Yeah, you're gettin' boxed in." 

Alone that night in his room, Downey did some serious thinking. About his son, and about his own father, who had died from complications after surgery when Downey was seven years old.

Chris Downey: I could quickly— appreciate the wonder, the— just the joy of, "I'm still here."

Lesley Stahl: It was actually joy?

Chris Downey: Yeah, it was like, "I'm still here with my family. My son still has his dad."

Lesley Stahl: You know your eyes are tearing up.  You know that.

Chris Downey: Yeah, sorry (laugh). I always have a hard time talking through that.

He knew that how he handled this would send a strong message to Renzo.