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Losing vision as you age is a blow that’s hard to recover from—especially when you experience the loss of your independence.  In my own case, I had to be pushed at first—kind of like a bird being thrown out of the nest.  I decided to learn about vision resources, get involved in new activities, connect with different people, and help others.  You can make your life what you want it to be.

It all started when Patti Ligman, a young mother, lost the central and peripheral vision in her right eye.  At first, doctors couldn’t identify the cause, but later she was diagnosed with Ocular Histoplasmosis.  The disease is caused by a fungus that can grow in bird feces.  Patti had lived on a chicken farm, and she unwittingly breathed in the dangerous spores. “I became a one-eyed driver and for almost 30 years, I was fine.  Then when I turned 50, I noticed something in my left eye.”  A retinal specialist confirmed that the disease was back, this time in her other eye.  It had been dormant all those years.

“My initial reaction was fear.  I had seen other people become isolated after they lost significant vision, and I didn’t want it to be that way for me.”  Sitting on the porch and feeling sorry for herself, Patti almost didn’t pick up the phone when it rang.  On the other end was a voice that would change her life.  Susan Dachelet from the Office for the Blind & Visually Impaired said to Patti, “I’m here to help you.”  Turns out, Patti’s optometrist “saw that there was a person beyond my eye disease” and he told Susan about her situation.

Patti is grateful to Susan for many things, including the assistive products that “opened up a new world for me.”  Thanks to Susan’s gentle nudging, Patti finally agreed to check out the Lions Summer Camp.  Now a regular attendee, Patti reflects, “It’s a week of utter joy!  The people at this camp understand me, and you hear about all the things that you CAN do, not the things you can’t.”  An avid crafter, Patti makes and donates beaded jewelry to the Lions Summer Camp as a way of giving back for all that she has received from this experience.  The camp keeps 100% of the profits from sales of her jewelry.

Over the years, Patti has found lots of items in the Council’s Sharper Vision Store that help her manage daily activities and interests.  She especially likes the 20/20 pens, talking clocks and watches, calculator and pedometer.  “I’ve visited the store and I tell others about the helpful products.  Right now, I’m mentoring a young girl who has Retinitis Pigmentosa.  I made sure she knows about the Council and the store.”

In 2007, Patti received a guide dog.  “Lily is a wonderful companion.  Thanks to her guidance, I can walk upright again.”

Patti exudes a deep attitude of gratitude.  “You have to help others when you have received help yourself.”  She recalls receiving a call from a quilting instructor.  One of her students was diagnosed with macular degeneration and the student thought her life was over.  The teacher asked Patti if she would talk to this person and tell her about available resources.  “Of course, I said I would.  I brought my trusty suitcase that’s filled with products like 20/20 pens, large print items, and magnifiers.  I’m happy to say that this woman is still quilting!”

Patti’s area Lions Club asked her to speak to their group.  From there, she added annual presentations to second graders at the local school.  “I tell them, ‘I’m differently abled.’  They see how I do things, and a light of understanding and awareness seems to go on in their heads.”

A cause that’s near and dear to Patti’s heart is transportation for people who can’t drive because of their age, health or disability.  “Isolation can be desolating,” she remarked.  She served on a Long Term Support Board in Sturgeon Bay where she lives, and she helped raise awareness of the need for better transportation resources.  At the time, only a taxi system was available in the area.  Today, the “Door to Door” program has expanded beyond Sturgeon Bay to include the majority of Door County, and rides are available in the evenings and on weekends.  “This service has totally changed the lives of people who can’t drive,” she noted.

Looking back on her own journey, Patti reflected, “Losing vision as you age is a blow that’s hard to recover from—especially when you experience the loss of your independence.  In my own case, I had to be pushed at first—kind of like a bird being thrown out of the nest.  I decided to learn about vision resources, get involved in new activities, connect with different people, and help others.  You can make your life what you want it to be.”

We think Patti has made her life a full and fulfilling one!