A woman's life with blindness

Aug. 6—Norma Cibrian calls herself the "rock" of her family.

She leads a busy life centered on attending school and supporting her family. When she began to lose her vision at 39, Cibrian was driven to adapt to her new life.

In 2017, Cibrian was checked into Enloe Medical Center in Chico for two months to treat gastroparesis, a digestive condition brought on by diabetes that causes severe vomiting, malnutrition and weight loss. After transferring to a hospital in San Francisco, she only weighed 82 pounds.

She was able to return home with a gastric pacemaker after three months of being hospitalized. However, while she was recovering, she quickly discovered that she could no longer read her texts or read the time from her stove or microwave.

"The doctors said I was just weak, but when I got home and couldn't see the numbers on my microwave, I knew something was wrong," Cibrian said in a statement.

According to the Society for the Blind in Sacramento, Cibrian was diagnosed with macular degeneration, cataracts and detached retinas. After undergoing multiple surgeries, her eyes could not be saved. Cibrian currently has prosthetic eyes in place and has been completely blind for five years.

She said that while initially coping with vision loss was difficult, she has been able to adjust to her new life. Ten years before she became blind, Cibrian's mother became partially blind after experiencing a car accident. By the time she lost her own vision, Cibrian was already familiar with the different accommodations she now needs. She remembers grieving her mother's blindness more than her own.

"My mom is partially blind. The depression hit hard for me when my mom lost her vision, but I haven't let it hit me now," Cibrian said. "I was able to bypass that depression. I thought, 'I can't just sit at home. I need tools to get back to a normal life.'"

She said that while adjusting to her blindness was initially difficult for her husband and kids, they have been able to support one another.

"I can't see with my eyes, but I can see with my hands," Cibrian said. "It was hard on my husband because I needed to show that I'm capable. He sees that I'm not scared to do anything."

In November 2020, she began taking virtual classes with the Society for the Blind, but is now attending classes in-person. Cibrian is currently at a second-grade reading level in braille and also takes cooking, technology and cane mobility classes.

During her technology class, she learned how to use the screen reading program JAWS, which helps visually impaired users read text on a computer screen through a text-to-speech function. She also uses apps like Seeing AI to identify colors, money and other non-braille text. For situations that require a human input like checking for expired food, Cibrian uses the Be My Eyes app to speak with sighted volunteers on demand.

"A person is very lucky to be blind in this generation," she said.

Cibrian said that one of her biggest achievements after losing her vision was cooking an entire Thanksgiving dinner. She has always had a passion for cooking, but taking blind cooking classes has helped her to improve her abilities and spark a new interest in baking as well.

"People often think that just because you're blind, you can't do anything, but I can cook, I clean, I read braille and I read emails. The one thing I can't do is drive, but I'm getting independent," Cibrian said.

As she continues to study braille and learn more blind living skills, Cibrian hopes to begin working again in the future. She said that she would like to return to her position as a case manager with Enloe Medical Center where she had worked for 18 years and "help out blind people" in some capacity.

Cibrian said that she's grateful to her family, friends, teachers and in-laws for supporting her over the years and adapting to changes with her.

"I want people to know that even though you have a disability, don't be scared. You can do it. Don't be depressed because you are capable," Cibrian said. "Now that I can't see, I never want to go back to seeing. That's how sure and how comfortable I am with living."