‘In 1976, I found out that I had retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disorder.’
“I have hearing loss, which I knew about since I was 6 years old. I was wearing hearing aids and knew about the batteries and my older relatives would ask, ‘How does this work?’
“I went to BOCES in the ’70s and I was determined because I always wanted to be a nurse. I got my license and I was a nurse at Pilgrim State Hospital for about 10 years. I’m sure the teachers were a little skeptical of me, but I’d be taking the blood pressure or using the stethoscope and I did it well. They would re-check and they would come to me and say, ‘You were right.’
“I also noticed I couldn’t see well at night and, in 1976, I found out that I had retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disorder. Back then, the doctor said if you were going to lose your vision, you shouldn’t get married and have kids. That’s when I really learned how to fight in my life, other than with my two sisters.
“Other than at night, my vision loss didn’t become a problem until around 1994 when it was a little bit more loss. I raised puppies to be guide dogs because I always felt someday, I may need a dog and I wanted to do my part in advance.
So, I picked up the pace and I felt like I broke through a little marathon, my private marathon.
“I’ve traveled with Ruthie, my 8-year-old guide dog, and one of my favorite walks with Ruthie was walking across the Golden Gate Bridge and with my daughters Cortney and Cheryl. I turned to the girls and I said, ‘I want to walk alone a little bit.’ So, I picked up the pace and I felt like I broke through a little marathon, my private marathon. It was really exhilarating for me — I made it there.
“I retired in 2017 after worked in a library for 16 years as a reference clerk and a technical services clerk. One of the worst things about vision loss is isolation. I know everyone is dealing with it with COVID, but with vision loss you deal with it all the time.
“I was doing a job readiness class through Helen Keller National Center when COVID hit and everything shut down. I would like to educate people. When people come up to me in the store when I’m with the dog, I don’t mind educating them. I have a lot of fun, I used to play tricks on my kids all the time, now they do it to me. Life is really tough, and we need to lighten the mood. Just laugh, try to live life and smile.”
Interviewed by Rachel O’Brien-Morano