Many kids end up getting glasses in middle school or high school because they can’t see the board. For Melissa Weathers, the eye trouble that began at 15 turned out to be much more serious.
As her vision deteriorated at 18, her family sought out a specialist in Lawton, Okla., that specialized in keratoconus, an eye disease in which the cornea curves outward, gradually becoming a cone shape, which leads to blurred vision, sensitivity to light and glare and potentially leading to blindness. When her vision got much worse, her eye doctor suggested that she go to Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City in 2009.
“I remember like it was yesterday,” she said. “I went to an Easter service with my family and the whole room was dim. Later I learned that I had ruptured my cornea, that’s when I was sent to Dean McGee for a follow-up.”
She started working at a daycare and found herself drawn to the older kids, which sparked the idea of fostering to adopt older children. To be financially stable to support children, she went back to school and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems and, later, a master’s degree in human resources management. She then went to work for an employer as an accounting technician and then an HR specialist for two years. And then she got bad news again.
“I was 31 years old when I found out that I would need another cornea transplant,” she said.
Six years after her first cornea transplant, she left a music festival and couldn’t see five feet in front of her, realizing there was something very wrong with her vision. On June 18, 2015, she spoke with a specialist at Dean McGee and they said she needed a second cornea transplant. She continues to wear glasses – a challenge while wearing a mask to combat COVID-19 – and is in the process of getting reverse cataract surgery in her left eye to bring it to 20/20 vision with glasses.
Her husband and her family supported her as she went to doctor appointments and needed surgeries. Her work at the daycare led her to start the process of fostering to adopt. And joining Staff Management | SMX was the final piece that helped stabilize her life. After getting laid off from a previous employer, many interviewers wouldn’t hire her because of her eye problems, either saying she couldn’t use a computer screen or worrying about time off for surgeries and eye appointments.
“Finding a job has been treacherous,” she said. “I go in and do the interview – I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished with my eye problems and I want to say that to people, but I found that people would be snobby about it when I tell them I have an eye disorder and think I can’t come into work or do my job like a normal person.”
At Staff Management | SMX, she found not only an inclusive environment that supported her needs, but a team that supported her career. She applied as a recruiter but was hired as a brand account manager in Texas.
“I feel like I’ve met my niche,” she said. “I love what I do for Staff Management | SMX and the brand it has to offer. Most of my job is behind the scenes when it comes to the recruiting side, but nothing is more rewarding than seeing people succeed and move on to be hired by the client.”
And while her vision is getting better she still feels the effects every day, especially in the dark or in bright light.
“I pretty much learned how to do everything as a blind person,” she said. “My vision isn’t 100%. If we’re in a dark area, I need to be guided, because I may fall and hurt myself. If it’s really sunny and windy, I have problems with chronic dry eye and I’m not able to see because of the brightness if I don’t use moisturizing drops. People make jokes and comments because I wear my sunglasses at night because the streetlights could trigger me not to be able to see very well.”
But she stays positive and grateful for what she’s overcome and prepared for any challenges ahead.
“At any given time I could potentially lose my vision, but I push through every day to be the best I can,” she said. “I feel like I have more to accomplish and I am blessed to be part of this organization where I feel like I am someone and I want to take that inspiration and make others feel accomplished.”
After all, her desire to help others would not have been possible without the help of others.
“I’ve learned a lot in this whole process over 11 years that a disease or a disorder doesn’t define you and that if you get this situation figured out or fixed, you’re going to be that much stronger in the end because you’ve lived through heartache,” she said. “I’m very blessed to have my cornea transplants, but I also think of the donors’ families. I don’t know who they are, but I’m very blessed to have vision because their son or daughter passed away. It’s a sad subject, but also a very powerful subject.”
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