INSIGHT - The Iris Network's Newsletter for All - Holiday 2016

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 Believing in Tomorrow

The great actress Audrey Hepburn once said,
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”                                                  

Mollie Moore enjoying a sensory garden
                              Mollie Moore enjoying a sensory garden

Mollie Moore was on holiday, touring the gardens of England with her husband, Wells, when she came down with a cold. The cold turned into pneumonia, and finally meningitis. By the time she got to a hospital, she could no longer see or walk. Her doctors didn’t expect her to survive. It was the worst case they’d seen in 10 years. She was in the hospital for three weeks. “But I’m a tough old bird,” she said. “We eventually were able to fly home.”

Her doctor referred her to The Iris Network, and within 48 hours, she got a phone call setting her up with a vision rehabilitation counselor. “The counselor was wonderful!” Mollie said. “She came out once a week for 2-3 hours for 9 months to help me get through all of this. She was helpful for my husband, too, because it was something he had to deal with, as well. I really can’t speak highly enough about The Iris Network.”

After her in-home counseling, she attended mobility instruction at The Iris Network for four months. “They also taught me the braille alphabet, and I learned how to touch-type on the computer with a talking program.”

“The Iris Network has given some wonderful talks to our support group,” she said. “We have 16 members. It’s a very active group and we’re very successful.” The Visually Impaired Persons (VIP) Group is dedicated to the belief that there is life beyond blindness.

“My husband and I used to own an English tearoom in Boothbay Harbor,” she said. “Fortunately, we decided to retire and smell the roses at the end of 1999, and it was just as well, because four months later, I had no vision.”

But she does smell the roses. She and her husband share a passion for gardening and are very active charter members of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. On that holiday trip to England in 2000, they were actually on a mission to help determine how wide the garden paths should be. They decided on 3-8’ — wide enough for a wheelchair.

After losing her vision, Mollie became interested in sensory gardens, and that started her and Wells down a new path. They spearheaded a committee to research and design a sensory garden. “We wanted it to be exceptional — a garden for everybody. We decided to call it: The Garden of the Five Senses. It even has a horticultural therapy program, so that no matter what someone’s disability, they will still be able to garden.” The gardens attract visitors from all over the world.

There is life beyond blindness. To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. Although blindness took Mollie’s sight, it only improved her vision. And everyone is the better for it.

A Message from the Executive Director

The Iris Network has over a century of professional experience providing vision rehabilitation, low vision services and pre-vocational training for people who are blind or visually impaired. For over 35 years, we have held the community-based blindness rehabilitation contract with Maine’s Division for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In September, I was pleased to report that The Iris Network succeeded in winning its procurement contract appeal; thus affording us the opportunity to compete fairly for an award of the contract for the next five years. We expect that the contract award will be announced early in 2017.

Katharine N. Ray, the former chair of the board said, “the number of contract award appeals that are actually won are very rare. Every now and then my faith in the system is restored and renewed because someone does the right thing. This is one of those times.” She added that “although the cost of the appeal process is extremely expensive for a small nonprofit organization such as The Iris Network, it is gratifying that the State procurement appeal process worked this time to reverse an unfair decision.” 

The Appeal Panel invalidated the award on two grounds: (1) that the recent economic impact section of the request for proposals bears no relationship to best value and thus violates Maine’s competitive bidding statute and (2) that the award was arbitrary and capricious because it gave both bidders the same number of points for “qualifications and experience,” when only The Iris Network complied with the requirement to provide Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapist certificates. 

Here at The Iris Network, highly-trained, experienced professionals serve clients experiencing vision loss. Staff include: Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists, Certified Low Vision Therapists, Employment Specialists, Assistive Technology instructors, Certified Rehabilitation Counselors, Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists and Licensed Mental Health Therapists, along with an Occupational Therapist and an Ophthalmologist.

Teaching transition-age youth, working-age adults and senior citizens who are losing their eyesight to continue to live independently and work competitively with accommodations and accessible technology, promotes dignity and self-reliance while saving tax-payers and families the high cost of unnecessary and expensive social dependency. This is how we will achieve our mission in our second century.

Very truly yours,

Jim Phipps
President & Executive Director

 Why We Give: Angel Eyes Foundation, Inc.

 Nichole Angeledes     
                     Nichole Angeledes
    Nichole & Rob Angeledes with their daughter Desma
Nichole & Rob Angeledes with their daughter Desma

The Angel Eyes Foundation, Inc., is a family foundation founded by Rob and Nicole Angelides. Their family has been on the receiving end of The Iris Network’s quality service. Now, they want to give back and pay it forward, so that other families can benefit. They want to ensure that The Iris Network can keep providing expert training, comfort, guidance and care for the next 100 years.

What is it like to have your life turned upside-down in an instant? Just ask Nicole and Rob Angelides of Lewiston.

It was Labor Day 2014, when their lives began to unravel. Nicole, 35, came down with what doctors thought was a gastrointestinal virus. But soon, they knew it was much worse than that.

“An intense amount of spinal fluid suddenly began building up, damaging nerves throughout my body, including my optic nerve,” Nicole said. Her doctors did emergency eye surgery to drain the fluid and hopefully, save her vision. They were only temporarily successful. Within six months, she’d lost 90% of her sight. She was told it wasn’t going to get better. Her neurological issues made doing daily tasks even more difficult. Her doctors were baffled. This condition had never before been documented in the United States.

Her specialists referred her to The Iris Network, and she is really glad they did. “At the time I wasn’t even going out in public,” she said. “My anxiety would just skyrocket! But the The Iris Network sent certified therapists to my home, and they were just amazing! They taught me ways to do tasks by myself around the house — how to cut vegetables safely, for instance. They put markings on my stove. We got specialized lighting. And they made me more comfortable with being out in public. They showed me how to get around in the grocery store with my cane.  I learned what to listen for to orient myself and stay safe crossing streets.”

“Staff at the Low Vision Clinic  were able to detect exactly how I could use my remaining vision,” she said. “They were incredible! When they showed us a video magnifier, my husband said my face just lit up with joy because I could see!”

There were other devices she needed, as well. The couple learned about modifications to their home, such as adding high contrast, which would make Nicole’s life easier. It all took money.

“That was when we decided to host a golf tournament fundraiser,” said Rob. “It was such a success and so much fun, people encouraged us to do it annually.” Their commitment led to a decision to set up a family foundation: Angel Eyes Foundation, Inc.

“We now know what it’s like to have your life turned upside-down in an instant,” Rob said. “We want to help other people who are learning to live without sight. The Iris Network really helped our family, and now, we want to help them, and our community. It’s going to be a lot of work, but it will be worth it! It’s only going to get bigger and better!” 


Coming to Terms with Vision Loss

Joan Libby
                           Joan Libby

It was raining the day Joan Libby took her last drive from Boothbay to Ocean Point. A mother duck and her babies were crossing the road, and Joan didn’t see them until it was almost too late. It shook her so; she went home and cried. She realized it was time to hang up her keys. “The next time it might be a child,” she thought. “If that happened, I could never forgive myself.”

The decision was especially hard for Joan because she lives alone, now, after her husband died 18 years ago. But it wasn’t unexpected. Joan had known for a long time that she had macular degeneration, just as her father and grandmother did before her. “It annoyed me,” she said. “There were so many more things I wanted to do.”

It is estimated that close to 12,000 Mainers age 50 and older have macular degeneration. That number is rising rapidly as our population ages.

“As you get older, you start thinking about what you don’t want to have happen to you,” Joan said. “Most people fear losing their eyesight.” Because macular degeneration ran in her family, she made sure she got her eyes checked every year. “Around four years ago, I suddenly lost the sight in my left eye. A year later, my vision started going in my right. I couldn’t pass my driver’s test, but was told I could still drive if my eye doctor tested my vision and gave me permission. He said legally, I still had enough vision to drive, but not at night, and not for long distances. And he also cautioned that my vision might change from day to day.”

But even after giving up driving, she was still having trouble coming to terms with her vision loss. Through the Visually Impaired Persons (VIP) Group of Boothbay Harbor, she learned from others about books on tape. Even after ordering them and the tape recorder, they sat in her house untouched. “I was determined that my eyesight was going to come back,” she said. Her daughter, visiting from California, admonished her, “Mom, you love to read. Now, stop being so stubborn, and start reading.” It took her around six months to come to terms with the fact that this was how it was going to be.

But Joan really values her independence, and didn’t like having to depend on others to read her bills and communications. So, on the advice of the VIP Group, she headed to The Iris Network and purchased a large video magnifier, as well as a portable one. “They are wonderful! If I ever decide to upgrade, I plan to donate them to someone who can’t afford it. It would be something I could do to make someone’s life a little easier. They’ve certainly made my life easier.”

Once she had connected with The Iris Network, she started getting calls from them. “I finally told them to come over, just so they’d stop calling,” she said, but now, she’s really glad she did. “I guess I was just being stubborn again,” she admitted. “They made changes in my house that really mattered to me. They put raised marks on my oven, so I can cook again — I know the difference between bake and broil. And they also put marks on my washer and dryer. They taught me things most people would never think of. But they are things that mean I can stay in my home. That’s very important to me.”

Today, when Joan looks back at her journey adjusting to blindness, she actually feels very lucky. “I worry about people who are losing their vision. I want to tell them to give The Iris Network a chance. The staff there will do everything they can for you, and they’re very kind. They call me to check in, and I know I can call on them whenever I need.”

The Iris Network’s Certified Vision Rehabilitation Therapists are helping people throughout Maine continue to do the things that are important to them, and learn new ways to live with renewed dignity, safety, independence and confidence.

If you know someone who is being challenged by vision loss, call The Iris Network at (207) 774-6273 or (800) 715-0097. For more information, our website is www.theiris.org.  


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