The Key to a New Life: Meet Norma

When Norma Cibrian of Live Oak began losing her vision at age 39, she was in a hospital bed recovering from gastroparesis, a condition caused by diabetes that had resulted in throwing up multiple times a day for more than a year. Her weight had dropped to 82 pounds, and she was told she might never eat again. With a new stomach pacemaker, she was finally recovering when she noticed she could not read her texts.

“The doctors said I was just weak, but when I got home and couldn’t see the numbers on my microwave, I knew something was wrong,” Norma said.

She was diagnosed with macular degeneration, cataracts and detached retinas. Despite multiple surgeries, doctors could not save her eyes. She now has prosthetic eyes and is completely blind.

“I would always pray to God that the gastroparesis would get better, so when I started losing my vision, I was just grateful to not be throwing up constantly,” Norma said. “God gave me another chance at life by recovering from this disease, so going blind felt like nothing.”

But when she lost her job of 18 years in the medical industry because of her blindness, she struggled. Fortunately, Norma had a role model – her mother began experiencing vision loss about 10 years before she did.

“I saw how strong my mom was and how much faith she had,” Norma said. “She didn’t let it get her down, so I refused to give up.”

Her ophthalmologist referred her to Society for the Blind, and she began taking Core classes a year and a half ago. She is now one of our few students taking all the Core classes at the same time: Braille, Adaptive Technology, Independent Living Skills, and Orientation & Mobility.

“Society for the Blind gave me the key to open the door to my new life and a new beginning,” Norma said.

She is surprised by her love of Braille and has read her first short story. She continues to learn adaptive technology, although she still struggles with the programs constantly speaking to her instead of being able to type in peace and quiet.

Norma, who was born in Mexico, was especially grateful to regain her love of cooking. She recalls one of her greatest accomplishments as when she was able to first cook a Thanksgiving turkey completely blind.

“My family loved my cooking, especially my Thanksgiving turkeys, potato salads, and rice and beans,” Norma said. “When my little boy finally tasted my beans again after I lost my vision, he ate them up and was so happy. It showed him that I could still cook even if I’m blind.”

Norma says she has always given 110% to anything she does and is the rock of her family, so it hit her family hard when she became sick and lost her vision. Her three grown children and teenage son are relieved to have their mom back at full speed. Her husband, who also has diabetes, says he used to think he could not live being blind, but now feels differently.

“My husband says he now knows I could lead him in the dark and he would not be scared,” Norma said.

At age 44, Norma still feels nausea throughout the day but no longer throws up. She can eat mostly what she wants and is back up to 120 pounds.

“I’m so thankful to my family, my mother-in-law and father-in law, my friends and teachers for being with me through all of this and giving me the key to this new life,” Norma said.

She now wants to help counsel other people losing their vision.

“I was always good at training in my previous job, and I would love to now help blind people see that it’s not that bad and they can start a new life,” Norma said. “We need to move forward and not look back. We can’t rely on our past. It may be hard not to see, but there are also a lot of new things we will see.”