Meet Pearl Ochoa
Pearl Ochoa never thought she would live in total darkness. Yet, after more than two decades of persistent eye infections, painful inflammation and multiple surgeries, she lost her vision entirely.
“I never thought I’d live my life without any light. I never thought I’d live in darkness. Everything felt so bleak and I was completely hopeless,” Pearl said.
Pearl describes herself as a “doer,” and even when panuveitis (an inflammation in the eye that causes pain and blurred vision) began affecting her in 1991, she continued to work for the next 10 years. “My family totally relied on me. I did all of our finances, shopping, organizing and cooking,” she said. After taking an early retirement, Pearl hoped that with rest and treatment, her vision would improve and the pain would subside. She even hoped to go back to part-time work, but then she completely lost vision in her left eye.
“But I still had my right eye,” Pearl said, “And I could still sew and cook and do the things I loved.” Yet in 2013, problems with her cornea, combined with the inflammation, led to multiple unsuccessful surgeries until, in November 2015, she woke up blind.
“I just thought, this is it for me – no more surgeries, no more options. If God wants to restore my sight he’s going to have to do it himself,” Pearl said with a laugh. “And in the beginning, I felt both helpless and hopeless. I had to rely on everyone to do everything for me. People had to take me to the bathroom in my own house, and they had to take me to the dinner table and help me eat. Being such an independent person, I felt so awkward.”
But then Pearl was referred to Society for the Blind and her life became filled with a different kind of light. Her husband drove her the 45 minutes from Fairfield every day so she could begin taking classes. She enrolled in multiple programs offered by Society for the Blind, including independent living skills, technology, Braille and the Senior IMPACT Project.
“On the first day of the independent living skills class, I told Diane, our instructor, that I used to love to cook and read recipes, and there was no way I’d ever do that again. But she had such a positive attitude, and I remember her telling me, ‘Of course you’re going to do that again!’” Pearl said.
That was her first experience with the instructors at Society for the Blind, who she cannot praise enough. “The instructors aren’t there just for a job,” Pearl said. “They really give themselves to each student so they won’t give up on life.”
In her technology class, Pearl learned how to operate her iPhone and create spreadsheets in Excel so she could continue to handle her family’s finances. “I couldn’t even do those things when I had eyesight!” Pearl said. She passed her Braille classes with flying colors and attended support groups with other people who were blind or low-vision.
“We really encouraged each other in those support groups,” Pearl said. “I realized that before my experience of losing my eyesight, I was dependent on it – even distracted by it. Now I get to rely on all of these other senses: hearing, touch, smell and taste. People forget that just because I lack my eyesight doesn’t mean I lack vision.”
Pearl loved that the instructors and students encouraged her to advocate for herself. “They taught me that I could still be the person I was before I lost my eyesight…or even a better version of myself,” she said. Through this encouragement and strength, Pearl is now living better than ever. Her life is just as full, and once again she is able to enjoy cooking, sewing, and listening to podcasts and audiobooks.
The day after her last class at Society for the Blind, she and her husband received news that the tenants who leased their rental property were moving out – and the property needed massive renovation.
“I took on this giant project all by myself, and I did it!” Pearl said. “At first it seemed an impossible task, but after everything that Society for the Blind taught me, I was able to contact all the contractors, keep track of the expenses, materials and invoices, and work through a new property management company until the house could go back on the market. I did all of that, and now my husband and I have the extra income of this rental property.”
Pearl attributes the skills and independence she has regained to the staff and other students at Society for the Blind. “I thought I was just going to be a shut-in for the rest of my life,” Pearl said. “But they never let you give up on yourself. Your life doesn’t have to be over just because you’re blind.”