When Dr. Paul Peterson was diagnosed with juvenile macular degeneration at age 6, his optimistic father – a farmer from a small town in Iowa – said, “You may have dim headlights, but you have a good battery. You’ll learn enough and be successful enough to hire a chauffeur.”
Having grown up on a farm in the Midwest, Dr. Peterson learned early on that he could accomplish almost anything since his father fixed and ran everything himself. So when Dr. Peterson was unable to read the clock on the wall at school, his father saw it as just one more obstacle to overcome.
His father took him to a local nonprofit that provided him with a rudimentary, primitive reading machine that could magnify text, which helped with school. And at age 11, he took his son to an alternative health care clinic in Dallas, Texas, that recommended he see a chiropractor. He started seeing a chiropractor 30 minutes away, and it not only slowed his vision loss, he no longer had headaches and was never sick.
“After I started seeing the chiropractor, I never missed school anymore,” he said. “That got me interested in what this chiropractic stuff was. I thought I would go into math, but then I realized being a chiropractor was just as logical and more fun.”
So after obtaining his bachelor’s degree at a liberal arts college, he spent four years at Palmer College of Chiropractic. With the help of books on tape and notes from other students, Dr. Peterson was a straight A student. Because others were taking notes for him, he could concentrate on the big ideas and then explain them to his fellow students, an activity he credits for the teaching skills he developed. He became a tutor, and eventually the school administration asked him to join the faculty, where he was always ranked first or second by the administration. He graduated and became a renowned chiropractor, not in spite of his vision but because of it.
“Because of my impaired vision, my sense of touch was very keen and gave me an advantage in practice,” Dr. Peterson said. “One of my patients told me it felt like I was seeing with my fingers and could quickly identify patients’ issues.”
When he moved to California, he was soon nominated to be a member of the state board of chiropractic examiners, appointed by the governor, and then became the California representative to the national organization. Eventually he was elected to the board of directors for the International Chiropractors Association. He also served on the board of trustees for all three campuses of his chiropractic school for 33 years. He presented at the National Federation of the Blind conference as keynote speaker one year and has served on Society for the Blind’s board of directors since 1998.
Dr. Peterson is passionate about helping people who are blind find employment, especially encouraging young people to go to college.
“Seventy-five percent of people who are blind are unemployed,” Dr. Peterson said. “But Society for the Blind gives them skills they can use in the workforce. Young people can still change their lives dramatically. They can be a success at college. I want them to know that if they haven’t found the answer, don’t give up just because you’ve tried one thing. Keep looking. As my father said, ‘Difficult we do right away, impossible takes a little bit longer.’”
His father’s can-do spirit not only shaped Dr. Peterson’s professional life, it opened the world to him – he has traveled to 86 countries. He recently returned from the Mexican Riviera, a trip to the family farm in Iowa and a transatlantic cruise to London. Next up is a trip to Alaska and then a cruise around Australia.
“Not too bad for a young kid from farm country,” Dr. Peterson said.