Esme Williams did not sit around feeling sorry for herself when she lost her eyesight.
“I never went ‘woe is me’,” the 77-year-old said. “I didn’t dwell on my loss of vision. Before I walked out of the doctor’s office, I started to cry. And then I said, ‘Ok, Lord, you knew about this before I found out about it. I want you to use me however you choose.’”
That potentially devastating day in 2014 marked the beginning of a new journey for the senior. After spending a career working as a counsellor and teacher, she now inspires others struggling in the face of adversity.
Vince Godber, a vision rehabilitation therapist at Vision Bermuda, said: “Esme has been a fantastic ambassador. She has let nothing stand in her way.”
About 2,500 people are known to have vision impairment in Bermuda, although many cases remain unreported, and the real figure could be closer to 5,000.
While Ms Williams came to terms with her condition within a few minutes, most patients take about two years.
Mr Godber said: “One of the things that happens to people when they go blind is that their world shrinks very quickly. You stop talking to people and being able to access things. With that goes your confidence.
“We take in 90 per cent of the world through our eyes and you are suddenly deprived of that kind of information. The psychological impact is huge.”
Ms Williams was diagnosed with a rare condition called Non-Asteritic Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy that affected her right eye in June 2014. Six months later, she suffered from Central Retinal Vein Occlusion in her left eye, leaving her only able to see vague shapes.
Friends such as Wendell and Rose Eve, LaVerne Furbert, and Cheryl-Ann Griffin helped maintain her spirits by visiting her house and driving her around.
Ms Williams reflects: “I miss looking at the blue of the ocean and the poinciana trees. Don’t take it for granted. Look at your lovely island. I miss the beauty. Going to the water and seeing the surf come up on the south shore…I want people to appreciate there’s no place like Bermuda.”
Mr Godber came to Bermuda from Britain three years ago and has introduced more technological equipment to help the visually impaired, as well as ensuring awareness training is provided at organisations across the island.
Ms Williams recalled: “Vince has done so much. The hope is inspiring.”
Mr Godber is concerned the blind community could be left further behind because of COVID-19.
“Our biggest fear is that people with vision impairment are kind of at the bottom of the heap,” he said.
He urged people to get their eyes tested and wear UV shields.
Ms Williams has numerous personal tips for people who lose their sight, from putting toothpaste directly on your finger instead of the toothbrush, to requesting restaurant staff explain where different food items are placed on your plate.
And most importantly, stay positive.
“Don’t give up living. It’s about hope. No matter what your status is, you will be able to make it. Avoid ‘woe is me’. Do your five minutes with that but then you have got to move on.
“Even though something has happened to you, there’s a reason. It might just be you are able to help other people with a word of encouragement.”