Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way: Meet Terri

Terri Walsh was a 43-year-old physical therapist in Pleasanton with an active life playing tennis and managing her four teenage kids when her world changed in 2008.

After a radial keratotomy years before, she underwent a corneal transplant that became infected. Despite surgeries, she completely lost her left eye. She then developed sympathetic ophthalmia, a condition that caused her autoimmune system to attack her right eye. Doctors were able to save her right eye, but she now had only a small range of vision and was frustrated and depressed.

One day, after purchasing a white cane online, Terri and her husband were out learning how to use it when they spotted another woman walking with a white cane.

“We thought it was so amazing that here I was struggling and nervous about the cane and there was someone else using one,” Terri said. “We decided to introduce ourselves. Sandy turned out to be wonderful and she started telling me all about Society and its Senior IMPACT Project. I called and made an appointment, and that pretty much changed my life.”

Terri began taking our computer technology, orientation and mobility, and independent living skills classes. She learned how to cook without vision, take the bus and light rail, and walk to and from our downtown Sacramento building. In early 2020, she joined the Senior IMPACT Project retreat, graduating just before the pandemic shutdown.

“I’m so grateful I had the chance to be in person and get to know some of the other students,” Terri said. “It was a huge learning experience navigating downtown Sacramento, but it was really great to be in a room with people and also be inspired by the instructors.”

Now age 57, Terri lives in Cool in El Dorado County and has continued Society’s remote computer technology classes while also learning Braille. She has substituted for the Braille class when our instructor was on vacation, and just finished reading a couple of large volumes of 5th-8th grade level books in Braille. She is now ready to tackle more challenging literature in Braille.

“I think I’ve made a lot of progress at Society, and I feel like I got my independence back,” Terri said. “Before Society, I was just sitting around feeling sorry for myself. It’s awesome to be able to just walk outside and take a walk on my own and not depend on someone coming to pick me up.”

In December 2020, Terri decided she wanted a guide dog and was introduced to her now 4-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, Julie.

“I love to walk, so I’ve been trying to do some hiking trails with Julie,” Terri said. “We even got a kayak that Julie fits in, and I just love to get out in nature and experience the fresh air, the breeze and the water. She also helps me get through crowds and city streets faster. I’ve always loved animals, and she’s just awesome.”

In early 2021, Terri contracted another eye infection that took more of her vision.

“This was a huge turning point for me because I was really rocking it with all of these new skills, and then this infection took a lot of my remaining vision,” Terri said. “I kind of slipped a little bit again, but Society has been so supportive and awesome. I had put a lot of the non-visual skills I had learned on the back burner because I didn’t fully need them yet. When I had to pull out those tools, I realized I was already confident in using them.”

As she worked to set up her entire kitchen in Braille, she realized how much she wanted to help others who had lost their vision.

“For the next step in my career, I want to give back to the blind community,” Terri said. “I love seniors and specialized in working with them in physical therapy. I would love to eventually work for Society for the Blind, maybe in the Senior IMPACT Project.”

In the meantime, Terri is taking an Access Technology certification class and hopes to graduate in June. She just celebrated her 10th anniversary with her husband, David, who she met shortly before losing her vision in 2008.

“I didn’t know this was going to go so wrong,” Terri said. “But he has been amazing and supportive and helped me through so much. Thank God for David. He even proposed to me in my hospital bed after a year when I was totally losing my vision.”

She also is enjoying being a grandmother to two little girls with a third on the way.

“I knew my two granddaughters before I lost the rest of my functional vision, so I feel like I got to see them,” Terri said. “They’re so amazing. I really don’t think I’m missing out on any of the love and experience of being a grandmother just because I don’t have vision.”

Terri hopes everyone will understand the adage, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“I try to explain my life this way: We all have something we’re dealing with and struggling with,” Terri said. “Everyone has their different thing. For me, I can do what I want to do, I just have to do it a little differently than someone who can see or someone who can’t hear or walk. I’m really grateful that Society was there to teach me that. I thank God every day for the people in my life, the things I’ve learned and continued to learn, and even my struggles because I know they make me stronger.”