Jon Hagmaier started to cry. He could see. He saw the lines in his hands. He saw things he had never seen before. And all because of two little hard contact lenses.
Hagmaier first sought help for his deteriorating sight at age 23. The longtime teacher was coaching football and couldn’t see the play clock. His eye doctor prescribed glasses, upping the prescription every time Hagmaier came in with more vision impairment, despite the fact that he couldn’t read or see very well, and he was getting terrible headaches. “Those glasses were killing me,” he remembers. By the time he moved to Virginia, at age 32, he could barely see at all, even with his glasses.
While at a charity event just after he moved, Hagmaier started talking to an ophthalmologist. He set up an appointment with the doctor, who then referred him to Vicky Portis, a contact-lens specialist and member of the NKCF referral program, who diagnosed his keratoconus.
“I had no idea what KC was,” Hagmaier says. “Vicky did a wonderful job explaining and educating me and giving me all the resources I needed.” One of those resources was the National Keratoconus Foundation.
“I most appreciate being able to see progress being made. NKCF gives me updates of where the technology is going, what is possible for the future,” Hagmaier says. “It proves there is hope when you persevere.”
Growing up in Pennsylvania and then Arizona, Hagmaier always wanted to be an educator. It’s a profession he loves and at which he has excelled. He has a simple philosophy: “Teachers open doors. If they open the wrong doors, a kid will turn away, go to their own door, then bang their head against it.”
It’s this belief that inspired him to mortgage everything he owned four years ago and start a software company with his wife, Mary, and two friends. Interactive Achievement develops benchmark testing software that provides educators with accurate assessments of student performance. It’s real-time testing that helps identify where a student needs help and figure out the best way to help them.
“For the first two years, I was a principal by day and a CEO at night,” Hagmaier says. Two years ago, he became a full-time CEO, and Interactive Achievement has become one of the fastest-growing software companies in the state of Virginia, having just hired its 26th employee.
Soon after his “life-changing” appointment, Hagmaier became a principal, then started his company. “None of those successes ever would have happened if I hadn’t met Vicky and gotten educated about KC. I’ve gone from being blind to pretty much having 20/20 vision,” he says. “I didn’t even know what I didn’t know until she put those contacts in my eyes. It proved to me, once again, that there is always hope when you persevere.”
It’s a lesson he tries to put to use every day, through his company, his work and his own actions: “Don’t be afraid to become educated; don’t be afraid to talk, to give, to be part of a solution instead of just being in the problem.”