Mat Pray of Searsport leads a relatively normal life.

He is a sales manager at Pray's Homes in Belfast, a business owned by his father, Charles. He is on the comprehensive planning board for the town he lives in. He has a fiancee, Jennifer Gray, an almost-four-year-old daughter, Charlotte, and a house mortgage.

His years as a teenager and a young adult, like many, were marred with ups and downs, but he continues to move forward.

An optimistic approach for a boy, who became a man, who now faces a potential lifetime of darkness.

The 32-year-old Pray, a 2000 graduate of Rockland District High School, suffers from Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, which eventually leads to full loss of one's central vision. It is passed down from one's mother to children and predominantly affects young males.

Pray's mother, Christine Martin, who has been blind for 16 years, passed the rare genetic disease down to her son. Pray said that Leber's affects roughly one in 50,000 people.

Typically, one eye loses its vision first, followed by the other eye weeks or months later.

As Pray described it, the cells in your optic nerve stop working and you lose all of your central vision, but, with luck, retain some of your peripheral vision.

“Basically, right now, in my right eye I've lost all but maybe five or 10 percent of what I can see peripherally, and it's basically just light and dark,” he said. “And I've lost all central vision. In my left eye I've probably lost a good portion of it, but I can still see enough to get around. But it's progressing pretty quickly at this point. A month ago I could still see perfectly 20/20 out of this [left] eye.”

Click to hear an informative six-minute video about Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.

Knowing his mother's history and his susceptibility, Pray had his eyes checked every six months for several years before he began noticing his vision becoming cloudy in April.

“I actually thought it was from weedwhacking or cutting trees and I'd got something in my eye,” he said.

When Pray told his fiancee his vision was becoming cloudy in his right eye, she told him to close his left eye and to see what he saw.

“And as soon as I shut my left eye, my whole world went black and I couldn't see a thing,” he said. “And at that point I had a pretty good idea what was going on.”

As described by Dr. Nancy Newman, who explains it in more detail in the video link, “it's typically a painless, central vision loss over the course of days or weeks in one eye, followed either very quickly, at the same time or within days, weeks or months, by the second eye. Almost everyone has had second-eye involvement by six months, and essentially, completely everyone has had second-eye involvement in one year. Typically there are no other symptoms or signs.”

While the first few months of the summer went well in terms of sight in his left eye, Pray admitted, “It is starting to go a lot quicker now.”

“Probably by the end of September or maybe the end of October I will be pretty much blind at that point,” he said.

It's an unfortunate turn of events for someone who, for all intents and purposes, had turned his life around.

After graduating from the University of Maine in Presque Isle in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in business and a minor in mathematics, Pray began making “some poor choices,” “got mixed up in drugs and alcohol,” and served time at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren.

“I got into some trouble and had to pay the cost for it and was at the farm in Warren for a few years,” he said. “And I learned from it.”

Part of Pray's probation was going to speak at various middle and high schools about his experiences and making important life choices. He has “been clean and sober ever since.”

Pray was “the life of the party” when he was younger, but he said “as you continue to make [poor choices], you look around and start to realize there's no party around you anymore and it's just you there. Eventually you've got to grow up, and that's what I did."

"I hate to say that it was a good experience, but it did help me grow up quite a bit,” he said. “It's not something I'm proud of, but it's part of life and it's something I went through that helped make me who I am.”

Pray landed back on his feet and is a sales manager at Pray's Homes, which sells 30 to 40 homes a year. His father handles more of the on-site duties, while Pray has handled the office, although they recently hired help because of Pray's decreasing eyesight. He has since taken on more of a consulting role at Pray's Homes.

As a member of the Searsport comprehensive planning board, along with having a fiancee and a young daughter, Pray appeared to be on a full-fledged track back to normalcy, until his vision began to cloud in April.

Now, while his life has hit another hurdle, Pray is not slowing down — or giving up.

“Between having a child and everything, you've got to stay functioning in life,” he said. “I keep saying things like one foot in front of the other, but that's basically what it is. You've got to continue to keep going. You can't pull the covers up over your head and hope it's going to go away.”

Pray went to the University of Miami to get on the list of a trial being conducted by Dr. John Guy, who has been studying in ophthalmology for almost 20 years and is an authority on Leber's.

Genetic mutations in the mitochondria cause the disorder, and Guy and his team have successfully modified a virus and used it to introduce healthy genes into the mitochondria to correct the genetic defect.

“He just developed this virus mutation that they inject into an eye in mice that has started the mitochondria [working again],” said Pray. “He just got [Food and Drug Administration] approval and school approval to start putting it into human trials. So, fingers crossed.”

Pray said the trials begin with those who have lost vision in both eyes and have lost vision for longer than two years, because there have been cases where those who have lost their vision have regained it within the initial two-year span.

“There are three different types of [Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy],” said Pray. “Unfortunately, I have the one that doesn't regain sight, but the only one he is doing any trials on is my mutation.”

Pray is in Guy's database, “But I'm probably 18 months out from being able to participate in the study.”

That being said, Pray now faces darkness, a darkness that is rapidly approaching. He said if all goes perfectly with Guy's new trial and he is selected to participate, he could possibly regain sight in three to four years.

But that is hardly a short time span. Or a surety.

“It's something to hope about, but if you live in that dreamland or hope that it's going to be, you've got to get back to the real world,” he said. “You've got to prepare for it. I went out and bought a lawnmower that has a rotary blade that didn't [need] any gas — and lots of other little things like that to try to make life easier.”

And Pray has an eternal sounding board in his mother, who has been through everything he is preparing for.

“My mother talks a lot about how she slept a lot in the beginning because you can still see in your dreams and some of these other coping things, but there's a lot more assisted stuff around now then when she went through it,” he said. “They have things that go inside your shoes that vibrate to give you walking directions that run off your iPhone. There are lots of things that can be done to keep you active in the world. Maine winters will be tough to get around, but we'll figure that out as we go.”

Pray admitted what he will probably miss more than anything else is television.

“I was raised on the television,” he said. “It's one of those things. It's been my best friend all through life. It's hard not to get [ESPN's] SportsCenter every morning, but I'll get through it. My mother does a lot of audio books and stuff like that, and she enjoys it. It's just a matter of learning a new life.”

He also is, while sparingly, still enjoying life behind the wheel.

“I am still driving at this point, so stay off the roads everybody, I guess,” he said with a laugh. “But that's not going to last much longer. I only drive during the day and I don't leave Belfast or Searsport, so I guess everyone in Rockland is safe.”

In the meantime, Pray is enjoying the finer things in life — views of the beach, Sunday breakfasts with his daughter, playing a round of golf and catching up with old friends.

He said while “It'd be nice some days to just put the blanket over your head, you can't do it.”

And not to take things for granted.

“It's hard to say it that way and I know that's what everybody says, but when you think you're going to lose it all, you'd be amazed how much more important it feels," Pray said.