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Hartzog wants to help others see clearly

Straughn High School alumnus Andrew Hartzog wants to become an optometrist to make a difference in the lives of children.

“I distinctly remember in fifth grade, I was the kid whose eyesight started to fail,” Hartzog said. “I couldn’t see the board, I couldn’t see the baseball, I just couldn’t see anything. As a result, I couldn’t play baseball and I wasn’t doing well in school, all because I couldn’t see.”

Hartzog remembers the life-changing moment when he went to get an eye exam.

“It was actually through the school,” Hartzog said. “I remember I came home just crying because I thought that I wasn’t good enough, I thought my eyes weren’t good enough. Then I got those glasses and I could see the leaves in bushes again. I could see the leaves on trees again, the board and the baseball and it really changed my life.”

Now, Hartzog wants to be able to give that life-changing moment to other people. He was one of 12 Covington County students pursuing medical careers who received scholarships from Andalusia Health Services on Thursday.   

“The gift of sight, it might sound dramatic, but it truly changes your life,” Hartzog said. “If you haven’t had your eyesight taken away from you then it’s sort of hard to understand, but I was in those shoes. It is something that I am very passionate about and I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

Hartzog plans to attend the University of Alabama in Birmingham School of Optometry in the fall, and has been preparing by shadowing Dr. James Barton at Ensight Eyecare in Andalusia.

“Being able to shadow Dr. Barton has reinforced everything that I thought I knew,” Hartzog said. “It has been absolutely amazing. Dr. Barton has been great to work with and he lets me do everything I can do. From the very beginning, he said, ‘OK, I am going to get you ready to go to UAB,’ so with that understanding, I have gotten to work with the optics, with all the machines in the office and he lets me do everything.”

Patient interaction is one thing that Hartzog said is something he is thankful to be able to get to do at Ensight Eyecare.

“Something that has come to mean a lot to me, which you can’t experience until you actually get down and dirty with it, is patient interaction,” Hartzog said. “Used to, I couldn’t even sit here and do an interview, I was completely introverted, but getting to work with people has really brought me out of my shell and given me a lot of confidence.  Dr. Barton just has this effortless ability to interact with patients and I have learned from that.”

Being able to interact with patients has given Hartzog what he said is a newfound love for people in general.

“We see people from all walks of the life,” Hartzog said. “All heights, weights, colors, just everything. Just getting to work with such a broad spectrum has really heightened my appreciation for the human race.”

Hartzog is one of 12 recipients of the Andalusia Health Services Scholarship and he said that it feels like a fairy tale to receive the scholarship.

“It means the world and then some to receive this scholarship,” Hartzog said. “I grew up here and I have loved this county from the very beginning and just the fact that they are able to turn around and give back to me, it just feels like a fairy tale. I can’t thank them enough. Hopefully one day I will be able to come back to Covington County and work, because that is the goal.”

At SHS, Hartzog was heavily involved in several extracurricular activities, and he said that SHS provided him with a confidence boost to be able to achieve his dream.

“When I was at Straughn, I was captain of the cross country team, class president and in all sorts of clubs,” Hartzog said. “It was a very good confidence boost to say, ‘OK, this is something I’m interested in, but now this is something that I can actually do,’ I mean, there is a big difference between something that is a dream and something that you know you can actually do. So, I think that Straughn really helped me to realize that I can do this.”

Hartzog said that attending Troy University was an important growth period in his life.

“It was a big period of growth for me, both academically and just personally,” Hartzog said. “I mean, I came in a wide-eyed freshman and the person I became is someone that I believe in, as far as me thinking this is a dream, this is something I can actually do, to this is something I am ready to do. Now going into UAB, I feel confident, ready and a lot of that is thanks to Dr. Barton and the people at Troy. I left Troy with a smile on my face.”

Hartzog is the son of Wendy and David Godwin.