Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Calhoun woman overcomes adversities
BY Mary Mobley

You know that feeling when you walk into a dark room and fumble for the light switch, but your fingers feel nothing but the smoothness of the wall? That panic in the pit of your stomach, standing there encumbered in the blackness? 

Now imagine that being your everyday life. Teresa Chastain has adapted to a world that looks completely different from the world we see.

Born and raised in the small town of Calhoun, GA, Teresa led a simple but fulfilled life. She married her high school sweetheart, had two children, and raised them in their quaint, ranch style home. Teresa had no idea that the year she turned 38 would be the one when her world she saw would be forever altered.

“It started as a spot; just a simple little spot,” she says.

After going to several doctors in both the Calhoun and Rome area, her frustration and worry escalated. Chastain was determined to find out the reason for her spotty vision.

“They referred me to a doctor in Chattanooga,” she says, “and that’s when I was diagnosed with macular degeneration.”

In simple terms, macular degeneration is a condition where the blood vessels in the eye burst. In Teresa’s case, the blood collected on the macula in her retinas, causing a blockage of light. The bleeding did eventually stop, but the damage was already done. Her retinas were permanently damaged.

Damage to the macula results in loss of central vision, which is exactly what happened to Teresa.

“When the doctors looked at the backs of my eyes, they said it looked like an old lady’s skin... wrinkled,” she says.

Because the blood vessels had burst and then clotted on top of Teresa’s retinas, they were no longer smooth like they should have been. She says they are now “knotted” and “crinkly.”

When Teresa was 43, she underwent a surgery to attempt to correct this problem. The surgeon’s objective was to “pull the blood vessels out,” she says, and to leave the macula unharmed.

“The doctor said there was only a slight chance that it would actually work,” she says.

Unfortunately, the surgery did not correct Teresa’s vision. Instead of pulling just the blood vessels out, the macula came out along with the blood vessels.

Although Teresa lost most of her vision, her attitude and outlook on life remained positive.

“Just because I couldn’t see the way I used to didn’t mean I could stop living my life!” she says.

For the past 23 years, Teresa has worked as a medical transcriptionist for Alpha Services in Calhoun. But instead of working in an office like she used to, Teresa now works out of her home.

Everyday she receives dictations from doctors in Calhoun and Rome on cassette tapes and types up their reports.

But how does a woman who is legally blind use a computer?

Teresa uses a low vision closed circuit television magnification system, or CCTV, which enables her to read any document. She simply places the document she needs to read onto her CCTV, and it magnifies the text large enough onto the screen so she can see it.

 “I also have a program on my computer that blows up the text I’m typing, so I can read that too!” she says.

Teresa’s work ethic is amazing. She receives 2 or 3 dictations at around 10 a.m. everyday, and has to have them completed by 5 p.m. This would be a challenge for someone who wasn’t visually impaired, but Teresa says she “doesn’t think about that.”

“She’s a fighter, that’s for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her once complain,” says her son, Joshua Chastain.

Growing up, Joshua remembers his mom riding her childhood bike to the grocery store, around the neighborhood, or to a friend’s house for a lunch date.

“That thing was…IS…so old!” he says.

Teresa still rides the same bike she rode as a child. From the 1960’s, it’s apparent it’s in need of some tender loving care. Both the front and back fenders are covered in rust, and the handlebars look as if they might fall off at any given moment. But Teresa stands firm on her decision to keep riding it. 

“I like my bike. It may be old, but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” she says.

But how does a woman who is legally blind ride a bike?

“It’s a good thing I’ve lived in the same area for about 30 years; you get to know the streets and sidewalks pretty darn well!” she says.

Since the area in which Teresa lives hasn’t gone through any major renovations, it is still relatively simple for her to navigate a few miles to the Piggly Wiggly or the Wal Mart.

“I was always afraid for her going out on that thing, but she’s never had an accident. Can you believe that?” says her daughter, Christy Chastain.

Teresa says she is happy with the way her life has turned out. She feels “blessed beyond all measure.”

“God knew what he was doing, he knew I could handle it. I’m thankful He’s given me the strength to be able to overcome this,” she says.

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