Readers: In lieu of a bio, my Friday Friends guest, Ramona Rice, has given me special permission to reprint her personal story. Typically, she reserves it for family and close friends, but does not make it available to the public. It is amazing that she has so generously offered to share it with you, my readers! I know you will be as touched by it as I was.
Post title: Ramona’s Story
Aspirations with Steely Determination
Racing Against Time!
The purpose of this book is to introduce myself as a deafblind woman, and because people have asked, “Who is R. Rice in her published books: Walk in My Shoes: An Anthology on Usher Syndrome and Walk in My Paws – An Anthology: Working Service Dogs?”
Currently, I am working on the following books: Walk in My Steps: An Anthology on Autism, Service Puppies, and Pocketful of Stars.
Below are the life-changing events of my life and how I overcame my adversities, found a happy ending, and began living my dreams.
I was a 50’s through 70’s child in San Diego and Redlands of California. I was born with a moderate to severe hearing loss and attended deaf schools, which were Lindberg and Hawthorne in San Diego.
My family and I moved to Redlands, where I attended Rialto Junior High and Redlands High schools. There were no communication accommodations for me from 8th grade at Rialto Junior High until I graduated from Redlands High.
However, they provided various speech therapists so I could communicate orally rather than rely on American Sign Language (ASL). I was not fond of the speech lessons, but I knew then it was essential because my speech was deplorable, and I was hurt being called “deaf and dumb” by others….including my family.
To this day, I miss my deaf friends in San Diego to interact in American Sign Language. I loved being in the “deaf world” with them.
As I learned to adapt to the “hearing world”, I challenged myself by working harder and longer than anyone else just to prove that I was qualified for any employment opportunities.
I was so determined to show my supervisors my hard and consistent work ethic and qualities, so they wouldn’t regret hiring me. And, they didn’t because they showered me with praises, awards, pay raises, and new position opportunities.
In the early ’80s, I married and moved to Utah, eventually divorced in the late ’90s. I was fortunate to have my two teenaged children with me that made my life a whole lot brighter. Even though I made poor decisions that affected them, I genuinely enjoy being their mom, and now they are married with beautiful children of their own. I am very proud of their accomplishments in their careers and their strong parenting skills. I genuinely enjoy being their children’s grandmother.
It was sometime during the late ’90s when I noticed that my vision began bothering me while driving. I blamed the problem on a recently purchased pair of eyeglasses. I had them rechecked, but they were not the problem. They referred me to a retinal specialist, and the doctor shared with me that I had Retinitis Pigmentosa. I asked, “Okay, how do we fix it? With a laser procedure or….?”
The doctor got down on his one knee with a somber look on his face and spoke very softly with these words, “No, Ramona, there is no cure. You will eventually go
I sat in the doctor’s office for nearly two hours, shocked to the very core of my being with tears streaming down my cheeks. I left the office and sat in my car feeling totally numb. Then, I frantically tried to make sense of what just happened.
My hearing loss from birth and now a vision loss?
I didn’t understand how or why this had happened to me, so I went home but couldn’t share the news with anyone just yet until I learn more about Retinitis Pigmentosa. I refused to share the diagnosis with my ex-husband because he would have come back to our failed marriage out of obligation. I refused to share with my children because I didn’t want to confuse or upset them just yet. I also refused to tell anyone at work out of fear that I would lose my job.
I was just too scared of my future. Can a person survive with stable hearing loss and a progressive vision loss? It was beyond my comprehension how anyone could!
In the early 2000s, after my Retinitis Pigmentosa diagnosis, I took charge of my life. I worked successfully in many employment positions, including at Bank One, as an Assistant Vice President, and no one ever knew about my vision loss. My thought process, at that time, was not to tell anyone about my secret because when a person wants to form a friendship with you, it would be about a personal or professional gain for themselves.
I wish the diagnosis were available to me when I was a small child as should, but it wasn’t until I was 38 years old. Then at the age of 42, I noticed I was making controllable mistakes at work, and another devastating diagnosis came to light – Usher Syndrome.
Both my vision and hearing loss will progressively worsen over time.
My hearing loss is not stable, but it’s progressive?
Oh, hell, no!
I was beyond furious!! Since the age of 12, I thrived on being a productive member of society. I worked hard as a law-abiding citizen and lived a very healthy lifestyle.
Why is this happening to me?
Sadly, because of my mistakes at work, I reluctantly retired from a fantastic job. Feeling so defeated and angered, I walked out of my workplace for the last time, sat in my convertible Mustang car in a parking lot and just bawled my heart out.
That day, I hung up my car keys; I felt no confidence in my ability to do anything else, and I was terrified once again of my future!
For a split second, I wanted to end my life, but the faces of my children flashed before me. I quickly stopped with that notion and fell into a deep depression for about four months. I lost much weight and was too scared to take a step outside of my home. Life outside of my house was too unpredictable for me to navigate safely with my dimming vision and muffled hearing. I couldn’t hear or see enough to do basic things such as walk across a street, take a bus, or grocery shop. I wasn’t willing to take a chance of getting hurt or lost. Simply….it was too stressful.
One day, I yelled at God, “What am I supposed to do with this, huh?”
“Tell me, damn it!!”
In the late 2000s, I worked feverishly to learn communication access and environmental awareness techniques; I trained with a white cane and learned in-home navigational tricks, how to label items, cook safely, and so much more. A spark of confidence in my renewed ability started to return.
After passing my white cane safety procedure, I applied and was accepted by The Seeing Eye, Inc., in Morristown, NJ, to receive my first seeing-eye dog, Sabrina, who was two years old at that time. She was the gentlest and beautiful female German Shepherd. I often referred to her as my “twin” because we were THAT good together as a team.
We were fortunate to be perfectly matched as partners, where we worked together for more than ten years before she succumbed to cancer. She was only 12 years old.
Oh, the unbearable pain I endured!
I grieved very quietly for two long, long years before I decided to get another seeing-eye dog, Stormy, a two-year-old from the same school.
He’s most considerate for my well-being and safety, and he’s the most handsome Golden Retriever with a saddest looking tail. Just as with Sabrina, I am very fortunate that we work very well together. Whenever and wherever I get disoriented during our walks, he would huff and puff until I instruct him to take me in the right direction. And he does every time! With his tail up high while guiding me, I swear I could hear his giggles.
I am forever grateful to Stormy for being there during my cancer diagnosis, surgery, and chemotherapy treatment. I was miserably in pain for almost three years. Stormy was a speed demon when I first received him, but he slowed down his pace and looked over his shoulder as if he’s said, “Are you okay, Mum? I got you!” while heading for my doctors’ appointments. He would often lie on top of me to keep me from shivering from chemotherapy side effects.
“Oh, the warmth from his body! I love his spirit and his love for me!”
I must admit that while he’s very good at his job, he HATES to shop with a passion. Hmmm, just like the male that he is! Ha!
Despite my deaf-blindness, Sabrina and Stormy have brought me back to a full-fledge confident woman and a very productive member of our society.
The question I asked God before what His plan was for me – well, I was already doing it! .I believe my job is to create awareness, to collaborate and fundraise, and to change the public’s misconceptions of the communities of hard of hearing/deaf, low vision/blind, deafblind, autism, Military veterans, rescued animals, and service dogs.
I am humbled to say that I know I am making a difference by volunteering my time and efforts to help others. I just will not quit.
Here are a few examples of my successes:
- Written several books: Walk in My Shoes, Walk in My Paws, Walk in My Steps, Service Puppies, Pocketful of Stars, and Ramona’s Story
- Changed internal policies: Intermountain Hospitals and clinics in Utah and Idaho
- Trained with Utah Transit Authority staff to better understand the disabled travelers’ limitations
- Created and hosted largest conventions in Utah for Utah Council of the Blind and Deafblind Advocacy Committee
- Recognized in the State of Utah by Harris Communications for my collaborative efforts to help others
- Collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind, Fighting for Blindness, Helen Keller National Center, Freedom Fidos, Disability Law Center, Usher Syndrome Coalition, and various ADA compliant officers
- I Can Connect Distribution article to share Deafblind communication access opportunities
- Declaration signed by Governor Herbert of Utah for “Deafblind Awareness Week” to support the Deafblind community, and Helen Keller’s birthday celebration and her accomplishments
- Proclamation signed by Governor Kemp for “Service Dogs for Veterans Awareness Week” to educate Georgia businesses on the importance of supporting injured veterans in need of a service dog.
My work is solely voluntary by choice, and my books are 100% generously donated to collaborated non-profit organizations.
In early 2019, I chose Freedom Fidos, a non-profit organization based in Columbus, Georgia. What I saw was an injured veteran with a desire to make a difference for his fellow veterans in need of a service dog.
Working with Matt Burgess, founder of Freedom Fidos, has been one of my greatest highlights because he is one of the hardest and selfless working men who use the majority of his income for his cause, which is to serve injured military heroes. He also rescues dogs from his town’s shelter and highly task-trained them into working service dogs for disabled veterans.
Another fantastic person by Matt’s side is his partner, Kristine Duncan. Her love to train Freedom Fidos’ (FF) service puppies is astounding as well as her patience and respect for each of her puppy-in-training, and to perfectly match them with their handler. Great job, Kristine!
In late 2019, Governor Kemp of Georgia supported my proclamation request to generate awareness by signing “Service Dogs for Veterans Awareness Week.” Annually, the proclamation is recognized in Georgia state during the week of October 6th in honor of all injured and medically ill military veterans and their working service dogs.
This declaration educates the public, including business owners, to understand the need for our Military heroes to gain public access with their working service dogs.
If you are interested in having a declaration or proclamation in your state to create awareness for our Military heroes, please contact R. Rice at email@example.com.
To this day, without getting lost in the changing scenes of my life, I am still racing against time to continue doing what I do best – that is, volunteering my time, effort, and love to help others in need.
My Shepherding Guide
There’s a Shepherding guide
Who was at my side
Sure of paw
As we traveled about the mall
And up the escalator glide
I’m on her right
She was at my left side
A faithful friend
And here to lend
A look about
When things got confusing
And there was some doubt
When my dimming eyes couldn’t figure it
She stopped or tugged me in the right direction
Out of proper training and such affection
She was my Shepherding guide
But in the end
If you really must know
My beautiful and faithful friend
It’s Stormy Out
It’s Stormy out
Yet not a cloud hangs in the sky
And radiates like the sun
Is her smile,
As she goes strolling by
It’s Stormy out
Yet there’s no rain
To muss the pretty lady’s hair
It’s Stormy out
So, what am I talking about
Surely not the weather,
It is Ramona,
And her beloved guide dog,
Side by side, together