A New Perspective: Meet Joy

Joy was born deaf in one ear and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 16, but she said the depression came when she was pronounced legally blind four months after giving birth to her daughter.

“It felt like the cruelest slap in the face,” Joy said. “I had a new baby and two sons in elementary school, so I felt depressed for a good minute. But thanks to friends who are blind, and my supportive family, I was able to bounce back.”

Joy began noticing floaters in her eyes in her first trimester of pregnancy and was diagnosed with a retinal detachment in her right eye due to diabetic retinopathy. Despite surgery, her retina detached again.

She gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but shortly after, doctors found blood clots behind her left eye. By the time her daughter was 3 years old, Joy had her left eye removed and was placed on dialysis. She was told she needed a kidney and pancreas transplant, and it could take five to seven years to find a donor.

“I was like, I can’t do this for five to seven years – I was so sick,” Joy said. “Less than a year later, I couldn’t believe it when I received the call that they had my organs.”

After her transplant in 2017, it took a year and a half for Joy to feel like herself again. She was trying to raise her daughter, and her husband was working two jobs since she could no longer work. Fortunately, some friends with vision loss pointed her in the right direction.

“I have friends who are blind, and they told me this was not the end of my life,” Joy said. “One of my friends has been my mama bear. She was born blind and raised her kids. She took me under her wing, got me connected to a lot of resources, and pulled me out of where I was. Losing my sight made me look at things differently. Everything was very black and white before and now I see things from all perspectives.”

Joy signed up with the Department of Rehabilitation and started learning braille remotely so she could go back to school. She learned grades 1 and 2 of braille in less than a year. She came to Society for the Blind and began learning adaptive technology programs. In 2022, she enrolled at her local community college in Oroville to earn her associate’s degree in psychology. She received a 4.0 in her first semester and earned a scholarship from the local chapter of the National Federation for the Blind.

“The teachers at Society for the Blind stuck it out with me through my first two semesters of community college,” Joy said. “They were so supportive. I felt like the training I got from them was really relevant to what I was doing. It was always about what I felt like I needed, and if one person didn’t have the answer they would reach out to their team. There was always someone there willing to help me.”

Last year, Joy was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society at her college and became president of the school’s Psychology Club. She will graduate with honors this spring and will enroll at Chico State University for her bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Though Joy was interested in the field of nursing when she was in college in her 20s, she decided to study psychology when she went back to school.

“I want to help families with disabilities learn how to navigate that experience,” Joy said. “When I went to counseling after my diagnosis, I couldn’t connect with the counselor because she tried to tell me she knew what I was going through. It would have helped our family to talk to a therapist who had a disability.”

Instead, Joy and her family learned to adapt on their own, thanks to friends and family. Her mom would come to town from Crescent City, and her husband’s grandparents would take the baby to daycare. Joy says they were lucky to have support from multiple sides.

Now age 40, Joy no longer has diabetes thanks to the transplant. She has a prosthetic left eye and her right eye only has light perception. Her daughter is now 10 years old going on 30, as Joy says it, and her sons will be 18 and 21 this year. She and her husband are celebrating 14 years of marriage this year. She now feels ready to guide other families through similar journeys.

“The first thing I would say is that it’s okay to be in that depression for a minute – you have to be in it to converse with it,” Joy said. “But you can’t stay there. You have to find whatever motivates you to pull yourself out of it. It’s okay to make mistakes along the way and figure it out as you go. Just make sure to use your resources. Blindness, or any disability, does not get to define the rest of your life.”