Area woman handles vision loss with grace

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 13, 2004

Twenty-seven years ago the world of Wanda Joy Grove went black. It was a moment she will never forget.

“I had moved back to Selma from Birmingham in June 1977 and was working at One-Hour Martinizing. I got up to wait on a customer and it was like Boom! Boom! Boom! Lights out!”

At first, she recalls, “I laughed, thinking it was a joke they were playing on me. So, I told everyone to turn the lights back on, but they didn’t turn on for me.”

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On that same day Wanda Grove called all the Selma physicians who worked with vision. “But, no one would see me. They all said I needed a specialist.”

Three months of near blindness went by before she heard about the Eye Foundation in Birmingham. She moved back, filled out forms for assistance from the Lions Club and in January 1978 began visits to the Foundation.

“On the first visit I saw five doctors. I was told the things that could have caused my vision blackout: such as too much sun exposure, a viral infection. They couldn’t isolate the cause, weren’t sure how to treat it.”

First she was given predizone, with no results; next, Grove received injections directly into her eyes, which brought her vision from 20 over 400 to 20 over 200.

“When the doctor asked me to read the eye chart. I told him to show me where the chart is and I will.”

In June of 1979 she moved to Colorado to live with her daughter, Lori Walker. She contacted two eye specialists who treated her for the nine years, bringing her vision back to 20 over 100. Even so, Grove said, “I still hurt myself a lot, especially in the kitchen, with burns and cuts.”

She came back to Selma in 1987 and attempted to enroll at Talladega School for the Blind, but they would not take her. At this point, Grove had still not received a diagnosis and her vision floated from 20 over 100 to 20 over 200.

In 1998 she saw Dr. Charles Robbins, who after a complete examination, diagnosed her loss of vision as the result of macular degeneration and referred her to the Low Vision School.

“I was afraid to go, thinking they would do the same things that had been done over and over,” she admits.

Finally, at the urging of her mother, Sue Long, Grove went to the West Central Alabama Rehabilitation Center seeking help. And it was again, she says, “Boom! Boom! Boom, but this time it was positive.”

Rehab staff person Susan Hopson took her to Montgomery to meet Kery Dean, who would teach her how to live with her loss of vision.

“He got me big decals for my computer, big numbers on my CCTV and a hand-held CCTV to carry around the grocery store, where I had been unable to read prices and labels.”

She received a zoom lens and color changer for the TV, and the first thing she did was “pull out all my photograph albums, blow up the pictures so I could see them.”

She also has a store-bought magnifying glass. “I didn’t know they had different strengths until Kery Dean showed me. I also have a magnifying make-up mirror and a Maxi-Aids catalogue for visually impaired and physically challenged people with anything and everything you might need. I even have a minocular, that’s like a one-eye binocular. I can even see across the street with it.”

Grove had never learned Braille until her mother and Jack Frost of the Selma Lions Club induced her to go to the Low Vision Clinic. There, she says, “they took me through different steps, fitted me for glasses with tinted lenses to take out the glare.”

“For 23 years,” she added, “I was told glasses wouldn’t help. But they do. And I owe everything to Jack Frost, who got it all started.”

Since then Grove says she is studying “more and more.”

On June 12, 2001 she graduated from the Americorps Digital Opportunity class and is now signed up for the advanced classes

“But what helps me most is word of mouth, hearing about things and taking advantage of them.”

She receives help from her daughter, Carrie Britcher of Selma, who drives her, and from her mother. Until America Fine Wire closed she and her husband of 16 years, Vincent Grove, prepped spools for the company. Then, she says “I got deep into the computer” and now designs web sites for people, even teaching over Internet, and she is most recently posting for Seeing-Eye dogs.

Her work may be found on AOL-Hometown, where she a web site designed for “Scotts K-9S” with favorite photographs for their Von Brendahaus German Shepherds and Belgian Malinos.

She still crochets, designing and making beautiful Southern Belle dolls and pastel afghans, although her Central Vision was lost two years ago. She has only peripheral vision left and she also has glaucoma.

“But I am so thankful to have come this far since the day my world grew dark – and I owe it all to the Nutrition Center and Jack Frost.”