How Rachel Ray changed the lives of Lafayette couple

Hunter and Brittney's story of love and vision loss is one for the ages. It's no wonder Rachael Ray wanted to share their story with the world.

Newlyweds Hunter and Brittney Tribe discuss their experiences on "The Rachel Ray Show." Photo courtesy Scott Clause / The Advertister

(Advertiser)

Wearing a pair of electronic glasses, Hunter Tribe studies his bride.

“Hi,” Brittney Reed Tribe says to him with a nervous laugh.

She looks to me and continues talking about how insane the past two weeks have been for her and her new husband. It’s been only two days since the two married and only a few days more since Hunter saw his wife — who was his girlfriend at the time — properly for the first time. And it all happened in front of a live studio audience on “The Rachael Ray Show.”

Hunter and Brittney watched their own wedding ceremony on TV just hours before our interview. They’d returned home just a day earlier.

Hunter continues to stare at Brittney as we chat. It is the first time he is wearing his new eSight glasses in his childhood home.

“Hi,” Brittney says again to him. She turns to me and says, “I just love the way he’s looking at me.”

Hunter and Brittney’s story of love and vision loss is one for the ages. It’s no wonder Rachael Ray wanted to share their story with the world.

Seeing his childhood home for the first time since he was a child

Amazement dances across Hunter’s face as he explores his childhood Erath home while wearing his new electronic glasses.

“That tree,” he says, nodding at the door in the living room. “I remember looking at that tree when I was little.”

He looks back to his wife.

“No s—,” he says. “The couch is different colors?”

From afar, the living room couch is a textured navy. Only up close can you see the tiny, colored striping on the couch.

“You know what blows my mind is the bricks,” Hunter says, nodding to the white brick wall in the living room. “Just seeing the detail — the little holes and crevices and lines — in those bricks right there.”

“Man, my eyes suck,” he adds, laughing.

It’s been 18 years since Hunter could see like most people.

Hunter suffers from Stargardt’s Disease and is able to see peripherally but is extremely limited from what he can view head-on. Two out of his three older sisters also have the disease.

Hunter, 31, first noticed his vision loss while playing baseball.

“I was 13, and I spent two years getting hit by the ball,” Hunter says. “It was hard for me because once I start something, I don’t quit it.”

Hunter, who played on All Star teams, finally admitted he would be doing his teammates a disservice to continue playing.

At Erath High School, Hunter replaced his love of baseball with football. When asked what the experience was like with his diminishing vision, Hunter doesn’t miss a beat.

“It was like ‘The Blind Side,'” he says, deadpanning. “I just thought of that. But really, I got blindsided a lot. I couldn’t always see people coming at me.”

Hunter’s coaches and teammates didn’t know about his eye condition.

“I wanted to play,” he says. “I didn’t want them to know too much.”

Hunter has worked hard to keep his eye disease hidden from those around him so he could live as normal of a life as possible.

“I could sit in a room all day and say, ‘Why me? Why me? Why me?'” he says. “But why not me? It sucks, but why not me?”

‘I knew I was making the right decision’

Brittney, 26, is continually amazed by Hunter.

“He completely just takes everything in life and makes it positive,” she says. “He helps me see the world in a different way.”

Brittney wrote to Rachael Ray in November after seeing an episode of the daytime talk show that featured a man with Stargardt’s Disease seeing his wife and child for the first time with a pair of eSight glasses.

Brittney hoped the celebrity chef could also help Hunter get a pair of the $15,000 glasses. Just two weeks after sending the letter, Brittney got a call from one of the show’s producers.

“I was on the phone telling the producer about Hunter and our relationship,” Brittney recalls. “I had her crying on the phone, boohooing about everything. I was just excited to hear back from them, even if we didn’t get on the show.”

The producer asked for Hunter’s phone number, and Brittney had to tell him about reaching out to Rachael Ray. She’d kept it from him because she didn’t want to get his hopes up.

Hunter had been shopping for engagement rings just two days before he got the call. When the producer asked if Hunter had thought about proposing and if he’d be open to proposing on the show, Hunter didn’t think twice. He’d always wanted to pop the question in a big way that would catch Brittney completely off guard. The letter she’d written on his behalf to Rachael Ray just confirmed what he already knew.

“That’s when I knew I was making the right decision,” Hunter says. “It really touched me that she was looking into the issue I have with my eyesight just to make my quality of life better.”

Seeing the world in a way most don’t

Hunter not only gets through his day-to-day life with limited vision. He also inspires others through his fitness business, CrossFit Cayenne in Abbeville. “I love my job because I can inspire people but they can also inspire me,” Hunter says. “I can see people — not like y’all, but like me — and their spirit and the soul of it to see if someone is going to a place they never thought they could take their body.”

Hunter has been able to funnel his passion for sports into CrossFit  where he does not have to worry about letting teammates down because of his limited vision.

“At the end, you’re on your knees gasping for breath, and to me, that’s pure serenity,” he says. “You’re only thinking about every breath you take. You can’t worry about an eye disease or somebody who passed away or anything. I turn to fitness because my eyes, my anger, my remorse, all of that, falls away.”

He also met his wife through the business. Although Brittney knew of Hunter — who was a senior at Erath High School when she was a freshman — the two had never met until she walked into his gym on July 13, 2013.

“He’s so selfless in every way,” Brittney says. “He didn’t let this disease make him cynical and shut out from the world. He took it and ran with it. He went and got a college degree. And he started his own business. And he literally makes a living by changing people’s lives through health and fitness.”

But even with Brittney, Hunter kept his visual impairment somewhat secret. She learned more about his visual impairment in the days leading up to their New York trip than she’d learned in two-and-a-half years of dating.

“He doesn’t like talking about it,” Brittney says. “It’s not about him, and it’s never been about him. He really just wants people to live better lives. He just wants everybody to live a happy, wonderful life and see the world in ways we can’t.”

A most unusual Mardi Gras

Hunter knew from December that they would be traveling to New York City to be on “The Rachael Ray Show.” He told Brittney that things didn’t look hopeful for him getting the glasses or for them being on the show.

Brittney knew something was up, but she didn’t know what.

“Leading up to this, he wasn’t being Hunter,” she says. “There were some fights. I was like, ‘Why is he so stressed out all the time?’ I’m normally the one stressed out, and he’s keeping me grounded.”She is the organizer and planner in the relationship, so when she finally realized they would, in fact, be traveling to New York, she had dozens of questions.

Why would they be traveling the one week she’d blacked out for a Mardi Gras ball, family coming in from out of town and a CrossFit competition? Why was there no return flight information? Why were the producers in touch with Hunter instead of her when she’d originally reached out?

On Mardi Gras Day, they left Louisiana for New York.

Too much to process

Hunter seemed to lose the ability to speak as he gained the ability to see properly for the first time in nearly two decades during filming for “The Rachael Ray Show.”

With the celebrity talk show host on one side of him and the woman he’d soon ask to marry him on the other, Hunter stared through his new eSight glasses at the audience before him. He could hardly focus on his vision. He was more concerned about subtitles appearing on the TV as he spoke.

“When I get excited and everything, I start talking fast,” Hunter says. “All my words start running together because I’ve got that authentic Cajun accent. I’m in front of all these people, and I have to make sure that doesn’t happen. And I have like five minutes to figure out how I’m going to propose on national TV.”The show went to a commercial break, and Brittney was whisked offstage to “fix a microphone problem” so that Hunter could put the ring in his pocket and prepare for the proposal.

When the show resumed filming, Hunter found his voice.

“I’m getting the hang of it — using my eyes,” he says on the show. “I can actually use them instead of all the peripheral vision. It’s hard to explain. There’s only one thing that could make this better: if Brittney becomes my wife.”

Brittney jumped back and covered her mouth with her hands as Hunter knelt to one knee and offered her the ring.

“Oh my God,” she said, nodding yes through tears.Hunter then told her he wanted to marry her in a week on the show. Brittney says she didn’t fully comprehend what he was saying.

She repeated “Oh my God” and nodded yes a few more times.

“They brought us back in the green room and let us process it a little,” Brittney says. “But then all the producers were like, ‘Congratulations! We’ve got everything planned for you. You get to pick your cake today from the top bakers in New York, and we’ll have the top designers in New York to help pick out your dress.’

“And I still didn’t fully comprehend what was going on, that we were planning a wedding in a week. I’m just sitting there like, ‘Oh my God. I have a ring on my finger. I have a ring on my finger.'”

A whirlwind of filming

Back home, it is Ash Wednesday — a somber day for most following the fun of Mardi Gras — but Brittney’s day is anything but calm.

Right after the proposal, Hunter’s three sisters returned to the hotel to get Brittney and Hunter a change of clothes. They were going to pick out their wedding cake on camera and would need a new set of clothes since the segments would be airing a few days apart.Brittney was still confused and dazed as Rachael Ray keeps telling her on camera that she is getting married “tomorrow” since the cake segment would air the day before the wedding, even though the actual wedding would not be filmed for another week.

“I’m freaking out,” Brittney says. “And I still haven’t told anybody.”

But as Brittney watched her new fiance pick out items with his new eSight glasses, some of the excited stress melted away.

“He would look down at something and say, ‘I can see the prices. I can see the designs on the plates. I can see the borders on things,'” Brittney says. “Of course it was fun registering for things, but it was so much cooler seeing him see things like that for the first time.”

The couple had to change outfits yet again to film the registry segment. Even though Brittney was told not to share the news yet with anybody, she couldn’t help but to call her sister during a clothing change back at the hotel.Little did Brittney know that her sister was actually only a few miles away at the airport, muting her phone most of the call to keep Brittney from hearing the airport announcements. Little did Brittney know that her sister had actually packed extra outfits for her because she knew about the whole thing.

“Needless to say, that first day was very overwhelming,” Brittney says. “There was lots of emotion and no time to process everything.”

‘Nobody from down here gets to do that’

More filming and more surprises dominated Thursday and Friday as Brittney learned in bits and pieces of the elaborate plan Hunter put into motion with the help of her family and the Rachael Ray crew.Brittney found herself in yet another surreal situation as her mom, sister and Randy Fenoli from TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” surprised her on set.

“I’m like what?” she says. “I get to try on Klienfeld dresses? Brides don’t get to do that. Nobody from down here gets to do that.”

Hunter and Brittney also learned that sponsors of the show were paying for everything from the $4,500 worth of bridal attire Brittney picked out to the $6,000 worth of items the couple had registered for.

By Friday afternoon, the couple finally had permission to share the news with the remaining family members and friends.

“Things blew up,” Brittney says. “The phones stayed lit up with text messages, phone calls and Facebook notifications. It was insane.”But now that they were done shooting until the wedding day — Wednesday, Feb. 17, which happened to be Hunter and Brittney’s two-and-a-half-year anniversary — they finally had time to take it all in. They were free to explore New York City in the minus-5-degree weather.Saturday, Hunter and Brittney celebrated their final days of single life with bachelor and bachelorette parties.

Sunday — Valentine’s Day — Hunter and Brittney had time alone for the first time since arriving on the set of “The Rachael Ray Show” that Wednesday. Brittney took a much-needed nap, and when she awoke, Hunter looked at her in a way he never had before.

“He just stared,” Brittney says, choking up at the memory. “He said, ‘I can see your ab lines. I can see the mole on your back. I can see the color of your eyes.’ He just kept saying all the little things he could see on me.”The eSight glasses work almost like magic to somebody with limited vision.

The glasses capture the world around the user and send the images back to a computer that can be adjusted and manipulated based on the individual. Two screens on the glasses play the images before the person’s eyes, allowing him to see the world around in real time.

“He always said he thought he was a burden with all of this,” Brittney says. “And I just wanted him to know that, ‘No, you’re not a burden. I’m in this for the long haul, but if there’s anything out there that we can do to help you, I want that for you.’

“I knew he saw me and accepted me for me, but he was never able to see me see me. And now that he could, it was just very overwhelming.”

‘More love in that moment’

The day Brittney had dreamed of since she was a little girl arrived faster than she ever imagined it would.

And even though many of the details of her wedding had been planned without her knowledge, Brittney still had more say in the small things than you’d expect. Her sister had been asking her about favorite colors and flowers in the weeks leading up to the trip, and those details were incorporated into the ceremony.

“The way everything came together was how I would have had it anyway,” Brittney says. “The whole experience was kind of overwhelming, but it was all what I would have done.”

“I focused on Hunter, and it all stood still,” Brittney says. “And I realized that it didn’t matter what came out of my mouth. I loved him, and I was going to marry him.”

Just one week earlier, Brittney and Hunter stumbled over their own words on the show in a state of confused excitement.

But on their wedding day, each spoke clearly and passionately as they exchanged vows.

“I felt more love from him in that moment than I think I ever have,” Brittney says. “It really showed us that we were a team.”After the ceremony — which of course included commercial breaks on television — the couple learned they would also be getting a five-day trip to Cancun as a honeymoon gift.

They left the ceremony and studio in a blissful daze. They had lunch at an Italian restaurant where their wedding cake had been delivered. They celebrated late into the evening with wine and music played from a smartphone in the lobby of their hotel.

“It was a blast,” Brittney says. “It was such a good time.”

Inspiring others back home

Hunter and Brittney returned home the next day, where they were congratulated by friends, acquaintances and people who only knew them from the show.

They are still taking the whole experience in. Hunter is adjusting to his new vision. Brittney is getting their house in order after a surprise marriage.Just before our interview, Hunter and Brittney watched their wedding on “The Rachael Ray Show” with their families.

Seeing the ceremony — and reliving the surreal week — brought them to tears.

“We’re hoping that this whole experience will raise awareness for the disease,” Brittney says, “and show people that there is hope when obstacles are thrown at you.”

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