Texas man lost his sight, found his calling as a builder

(CBS News) TYLER, Texas -- Just outside Tyler, Texas, there's a single-story house with a story-and-a-half.

Thomas Graham
Thomas Graham
CBS News

Forty-eight-year-old Thomas Graham is building this house pretty much by himself. And although that alone is not remarkable, just imagine trying to put up a three-bedroom, two-bath ranch without any blueprints -- and doing it in total darkness.

Thomas says he started dreaming of this shortly after he went blind at the age of 18. He had some friends help him with the roof and the wiring, but the rest has been all him. All this in just five months.

All this and still 10 fingers -- an accomplishment so unbelievable that a lot of his neighbors don't believe him. Thomas says people don't believe he's blind.

"And then I tell them, 'Well, let me drive your car, then,'" he says. "And then they usually back off. 'I believe you, buddy.'"

For the record, he is totally blind. And on occasion, he even unwittingly hammers home the point.

Blinded at age 18, Thomas Graham is now building his own house -- and reclaiming his childhood in the process.
Blinded at age 18, Thomas Graham is now building his own house -- and reclaiming his childhood in the process.
CBS News

"Before I had these walls up, I fell right off the front of the house here," he says. "And, you know, it's real hard to make it look like you meant to do that."

As you can probably tell by now, Thomas has a great sense of humor.

Evonne Graham
Evonne Graham
CBS News

"I just bounced right back up," he says.

But there's also a dark corner to this house. The building is actually a replica of the house he grew up in, and his wife suspects there's a reason for that. Away from Thomas, in the camper they're living in for now, Evonne told me she thinks part of this is about Thomas reclaiming his childhood.

"I really think that's a lot of it," she says of the healing that's going on as Thomas builds. "And I hope this does it."

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Thomas acknowledges, "As a teenager, at the age of 18, I made some bad choices."

The worst choice, by far, was agreeing to go with his dad on a burglary attempt. Things went bad. His dad shot and killed a cop, and then got shot and killed himself. Thomas got a face full of shotgun pellets.

He lost his vision, his father and his freedom, all in one fell swoop. And it was after serving his six years in prison that Thomas decided he would one day build his childhood home.

For his part, Thomas doesn't care about the reasons behind the project. All he cares about is getting it done before winter. And if he can inspire others along the way, all the better.

"I truly hope that there are people who think that they can't will find something inside themselves, and, you know, and say that 'I can,'" he says.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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