Meet Elizabeth Lam
In three days, Elizabeth Lam went from being a 52-year-old systems trainer at health care company Centene to no longer being able to put on her own socks.
She woke up on February 28, 2018 with an excruciating headache and blurry vision, but had to conduct a training, so she took ibuprofen and went to work. When her vision worsened that afternoon, she called her eye doctor and scheduled an appointment for March 5. By March 3, she was blind.
“I sat in my recliner all day and night thinking I would wake up and my vision would be back, but it never came,” Elizabeth said.
She wondered how she would continue living – how she would brush her teeth and make coffee, much less continue caring for her elderly father who lived with her. She woke up the next day and decided it was time to face what was happening and get help.
“I told myself that I was going down a different path than I had expected, and I had to deal with it,” Elizabeth said.
She called a friend who took her to the doctor the next day. She was diagnosed with the most rapid case of neurovascular glaucoma the doctor had ever seen. There was still some hope for vision – but five laser surgeries, three injections and tubes in her eyes have only allowed her to see some light and bright colors. She can’t see faces or details or read a computer. But fortunately she can work – because she found Society for the Blind.
Elizabeth had worked with Centene for 14 years and did not want to leave her job. She just wanted to learn how to do it a different way. Through Society for the Blind’s Core program, Elizabeth started working with program director Shane Snyder and instructor Randy Owen to learn assistive technology. They worked for three months helping her learn how to use her iPhone and computer. Through Core, she also learned daily life skills such as cooking and laundry. She attended classes five days a week, though most students only come three days a week.
“The whole team over there is amazing – they basically saved my life,” Elizabeth said. “Most have low vision or are completely dark, and they are living examples that there is life after sight. I’m in awe of them.”
Three months later, Elizabeth was ready to go back to her job at Centene but still needed help. So Randy began coming to her office twice a week. He will continue to help her through the end of 2019 with web applications, the Microsoft Suite, Skype and more.
“It’s been a godsend having Randy here,” Elizabeth said. “Centene is so big and constantly changing and moving. I now have to do everything I used to do with just a keyboard and screen reader.”
And it’s working – in June she trained her first class completely on her own with no vision. It was successful and feedback was great. Ironically, the biggest area of improvement noted was that she needed to include more visual aids – they needed to be able to see, even though she can’t. Now she has proven that she can train the sighted or the visually impaired whether or not she has sight, thanks to Randy’s help.
“Randy is my mentor and my pep rally coach,” Elizabeth said. “He has a great personality, is highly knowledgeable and really cares about his students. I hate to think about him leaving at the end of the year, but I know I can do it.”
Elizabeth now goes into work early and leaves late to make up for having to work more slowly than she used to. But it’s worth it. And she hopes to be able to open doors for people who are disabled and help train them.
“I’m so grateful to Society for the Blind and Centene for helping me continue to do this job that I love,” Elizabeth said. “This whole experience has helped me become a better human. I used to be constantly on the go and didn’t take time to appreciate the people I was walking by. Now I know how to stop and smell the roses.”