Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Karon Altman

Karon Altman of Carmichael speaks in a whisper, but her story speaks volumes. After recovering from a stroke in 2008, Karon began having double vision in 2010 and was diagnosed with chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia, which causes progressive paralysis of the eyes and can move as far down as the shoulders. As Karon’s vision disappeared, she also began experiencing atrophy of her neck muscles and now has a feeding tube and can barely speak.

“This turned my life upside down and I was devastated,” Karon said. “But I’d gotten through adversity before and this was another challenge to face.”

Karon’s soft voice and thin frame make her past even more surprising. Weighing nearly twice what she does now, Karon was the only woman working at Northwest Airlines loading luggage and freight for many of her 33 years on the job. After a devastating and sudden divorce, Karon worked full-time while raising her daughter alone from the age of 4. Over the years, she worked an early morning shift, attended PTA meetings at night and helped her daughter through college and a master’s program so she could become a teacher in Sacramento.

“Thankfully, my daughter is very strong and knows that I’m very strong-willed and I can push through everything and anything,” Karon said.

Two years after her diagnosis, Karon found Society for the Blind and joined a Senior IMPACT Project retreat, which she said gave her the power to continue to live independently in her own home.

“I was terrified of the learning shades, but the training and mentors moved me forward in my journey,” she said.

She then joined the Core program while serving as a Senior IMPACT Project mentor just a couple of months after finishing the retreat. Despite undergoing a hip replacement, knee replacement and multiple eye and throat surgeries over the last eight months, Karon now volunteers at Society for the Blind three days a week for eight hours a day helping in our Core program and Senior IMPACT Project. She hopes to complete more computer, cane and Braille training in the near future.

Meanwhile she travels frequently to Washington to care for her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease, and she walks 20,000 steps a day, making her one of the top participants in the National Fitness Challenge that Society for the Blind is participating in. She said she would walk 25,000 steps a day if her doctor were not concerned about her caloric intake because of her feeding tube.

“I’ve gained my independence being here, and I know that I can do anything I put my mind to with the right training,” Karon said. “I’m very grateful that I’m able to do what I do. It warms my heart to help other people through this process.”

Through tears, she added, “My willpower and the family I’ve made here – that’s what has kept me going.”

Karon Altman stands with her cane in front of Society for the Blind's building.
Karon Altman