About 15 years ago, Donna Elliot’s life began to fall apart. She was performing in an Ionesco play when she felt strange. “I knew something was wrong. I wasn’t seeing properly.” She visited an eye care specialist. Donna has glaucoma and is now completely blind in her left eye; she has some vision in her right, but glaucoma has destroyed her peripheral vision. She was upset about having to learn to use a cane to navigate. But she was determined not to lose her ability to sing on stage. She succeeded. “I have been singing now 25 years and 15 years with the [cane]. Now the [cane] is like my partner, my guide, my friend. I love it. I can’t be without my [cane.]”
One professional who helped Donna was Dr. Andrea Zimmerman. “I think Dr. Zimmerman is the best. She was wonderful to me, she’s very exacting, she listens.” Dr. Zimmerman put Donna at ease about wearing dark glasses. “I am a singer and I was a little afraid at first.” But Dr. Zimmerman told her: “Donna, you look beautiful in your glasses.”
Another person who helped Donna adjust to her changed circumstances was an occupational therapist who came to her home. “He put red stickers on the stove.” She’s maintained that set-up and is proud to note: “I’ve never burned myself in the kitchen, never, and I still cook and I’m going to be 80 years old my next birthday.”
Yet another Lighthouse Guild staff member who has been significant in Donna’s life was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, who helped Donna learn about non-medical services and funding for people with vision impairments.
During a recent visit to Lighthouse Guild, Donna had her second pair of sunglasses fixed so she can see the television. CNN and Turner Classic Movies are among her favorites.
Despite her vision issues, Donna considers herself “very fortunate. I listen to the doctor. You have to listen.” People with vision issues “can’t sit backwards and say. ‘Oh my God, my life is over.’
“No. They have to come here, get as much guidance as they can and try to do something that uplifts your spirit. That’s very, very important because you can get down in the dumps so easily. But if you get in the right frame of mind, you will say, ‘Oh, I’m not so bad, I look pretty today, I will just call up someone, we’ll have a lovely conversation and we’ll go on to the next thing.’ And you build relationships that way. You build relationships here with the people who are assisting you and then you start to have friends who love you and from one thing to the next. And that’s how you do it. But you have to be willing to give of yourself and to get yourself going.”