Saturday, June 14, 2008

New class gives hope to the visually impaired!

As an optometrist, Dr. Kelly Thomas often had to diagnose and treat patients who were losing their vision. Little did she know that one day she would be in the same position, struggling to deal with visual impairment after a stroke.“I can see both sides of the coin now,” Thomas said.

Like many of her patients who lost their eyesight, Thomas began to withdraw. She said she felt like she never would be able to live a full life again, so she stopped living.“When my eyes went bad, I shut myself down from doing what I love,” she said. “I retreated from everything.”Finding new confidence.

These days, Thomas has started to reclaim her life, and said she realizes that it might be different with a visual impairment but still can be fulfilling. Thomas, along with three other people, recently graduated from the Lighthouse Central Florida Independent Living Skills Class for the Visually Impaired.

The five-week course is offered to visually impaired Villagers at Lake Miona Recreation Center, and Brian Runk, an orientation and mobility specialist and low vision therapist, said the free course is designed to help visually impaired people deal with their vision loss beyond their medical appointments.“If you’re diagnosed (with visual impairment), this is the next step,” Runk said after passing out diplomas to his graduating class.

“The main goal is to build up their confidence and to show them they can do everything they used to do. They just need to use different techniques.”After losing much of her vision, Thomas said tasks that were once simple, such as cooking in an oven, proved to be a challenge. But with the help of the class, she said she has gained back her confidence and has started to cook and do other activities she thought she couldn’t do anymore.“The class is phenomenal. It gives you strength. It makes you feel like you’re not alone,” she said.

Other than relearning how to accomplish ordinary tasks, Thomas said the class has given her the confidence to find new ways to continue some of her old hobbies, including horseback riding.“It helps you get out and do things again. I now feel confident. I thank the Lord for this. It has changed my life,” she said.Reclaiming lifeOne of Thomas’ classmates, Marge French from the Village of Glenbrook, said she is happy to be able to cook again, and her husband is pretty happy about that, too.“I found that it was difficult to cook.

I was a little afraid of it, and that was one of my passions — cooking,” French said.French was diagnosed with macular degeneration and is developing glaucoma. Before the LCF class, she said her vision loss was eroding her confidence in herself.But that has changed now that she is a graduate of the LCF course. She said the class taught her a lot of “tricks” to help her cope with everyday life.“I feel much more free to do things I can do. It was an enlightening thing for my daily life,” she said. “I learned an awful lot. You can do anything you choose to do, so I’m going to cook again.”French also is looking forward to another important step toward further independence in her life.“I can’t wait to get my cane,” she said.

The LCF classes are offered every six weeks and take place 9 a.m.-noon twice a week for five weeks. LCF also offers services on an in-home basis.Although Runk has taught 15 independent living skills classes in The Villages, he said it is always wonderful to see his students meet their goals.“They’re ready to go home and live the rest of their lives as a visually impaired person,” he said. “It’s all about keeping them living the lifestyle they’re used to.”The next Lighthouse Central Florida Independent Living Skills Class for the Visually Impaired in The Villages begins June 16.

For information, call Brian Runk at 348-3677 or contact him via e-mail at Klapper is a reporter with the Daily Sun. She can be reached at 753-1119, ext. 9018, or


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