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South Jordan Journal

How one West Jordan resident wants others to understand blindness

Nov 07, 2018 12:44PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Sandy England cooking dinner for her family (Photo Courtesy: Jennifer Gardiner)

By Jennifer Gardiner | j.gardiner@mycityjournals.com 

Many may not know that October is blindness awareness month. But for those who live their lives in the dark, every month is spent being fully aware that they are unable to see life the way others do. 

West Jordan resident Sandy England knows all too well what it is like to have to explain how being blind has affected her life, but her kind spirit, loving nature, strong will and drive to be independent has always been what kept her going, and nothing, not even blindness, would stand in her way, 

When Sandy was a teen, she started to notice she could not see things the way others did. After not being able to see linens that had fallen from a clothing line, her mother decided it was time to see a doctor. It was there she was given the devastating news: She was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that causes blindness through the slow loss of vision.

Sandy refused to believe her doctor’s diagnosis, but there was no doubt it was starting to disrupt her life. It prevents her from obtaining a driver’s license; she lost the ability to see color. And she was losing her peripheral vision. 

Sandy said she struggled for years to accept the news, but in time she slowly started to accept life would be different for her. The loss of her sight became increasingly more apparent every day, and her world became darker and darker every year. 

Not being given any options to save her sight, Sandy decided she had no choice but to move on with life the best way possible. She graduated high school, went on to junior college, got married and had children all while learning how to read braille, adapt to a visionless environment and learning to use a guide dog. 

She was doing the best she possibly could despite the realization that she would not be able to see the things in life that mattered most, such as her children and grandchildren.  

Sandy learned how to cook from her mother when she was young, so using her instincts from what she had been taught, she was able to find ways to bake, cook meals and feed her family. Now a single mother raising her two daughters in Oregon, she knew she needed to do something to supplement her income. Going off a pure desire to support her family, she transformed her garage into a commercial bakery, and soon after was supplying local stores and restaurants with bread, baked goods and treats. 

England also spent time going around to elementary schools trying to teach children how it feels to be blind. Her education and awareness of the blind continues today as she is constantly trying to help others understand they are the same as everyone else, just with different limitations. 

“There is life after blindness,” England said. “Yes, some handle it better than others however please don't stop talking to us for you might think it is hard. This is life and we can take it.”

England said she is fully aware visually impaired individuals do things differently, even much slower but that does not mean they are not trying to get to the same place in life everyone else is. 

“With all the new technology life has gotten easier,” said England “It is a learning time for us and it takes time to learn cell phones, computers, talking devices and other things designed to help.”

England has been blind for nearly four decades, but in 2016, an unexpected phone call would change the world as she knew it. A new development, called the Argus II implant, developed by a company called Second Sight, would help to do the unimaginable, restore some of her eyesight for the first time since the 1970s. 

After various tests, England and her husband, John, went to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to the University of Minnesota’s School of Ophthalmology. The doctors there fitted her with the “bionic eye.” The device sends electrical impulses to her brain that would allow her to “see” shapes and shadows. 

England went ahead with the procedure, and while it is a far cry from normal eyesight, it did allow her the opportunity to recognize loved ones and notice her surroundings. To her, this has been a complete miracle.

“I am a very religious person; how can I not look at this without being thankful for the Lord who provided this opportunity to me?” said Sandy. “I never thought this would ever happen, at least not in my lifetime.”

Sandy continues to spend her time helping others in the community and spreading awareness about how to interact with the blind, something she says others never know how to do. She is truly an inspirational woman who is doing her job at making a difference. 

“My wish here is to let everyone know that yes, sometimes we do need help at times, for we don't drive and cannot see to do everyday things,” England said. “It is hard at times, but you just brush yourself off and keep trucking.” 

Note: Sandy England is the writer’s mother.