Sights set on AUT degree
The disease that stole Sarndra Tamepo’s sight went unnoticed for years.
It was finally diagnosed seven years ago when the mother of three bent down to reach something and her vision went blank.
“There was nothing, blind as a bat,” she says.
“I sat down and shut my eyes and said: ‘Please, when I open my eyes, let me be able to see’.”
Some vision returned at first, but within months Miss Tamepo was permanently blind.
Specialists confirmed she suffered from diabetic retinopathy, a complication from diabetes and one of the most common causes of blindness in New Zealand.
Miss Tamepo had developed gestational diabetes eight years earlier while pregnant with her youngest daughter.
But she thought the condition had gone after slowly losing 65kg, dropping from 130kg.
“I just thought it had gone away, but I had all this stuff going on that I wasn’t aware of,” she says.
The 43-year-old says in her first year of blindness she felt like her life was over.
“I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t do anything,” she says.
“I just went into complete depression. But then I thought there are other blind people out there. I’m not the first and I won’t be the last.”
In 2003, Miss Tamepo moved to Auckland from the Bay of Plenty and sought help from the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind.
She learned to use talking computer programmes, get around with a white cane, and be independent at home.
“I don’t know how many loaves of bread I went through before I finally got the first sandwich right,” the Three Kings resident says.
“I sat down and cried and cried when I’d finally done it.”
She has been studying at AUT for the past three years, and is now working towards a degree in health studies.
The former bank worker has been inspired to become a counsellor to help others coping with blindness, particularly other Maori women who have a high incidence of diabetes.
Foundation counsellor Delwyn Lopez says dealing with feelings of anger, depression and isolation can be as important as learning practical tools.
“Along with a loss of vision will often come a huge drop in confidence,” she says.
“Usually they’re the only one in their network of friends that has the condition, so they can feel totally isolated.”
She says older people in particular can often feel vulnerable when going out and struggle to engage people in conversation.
Counselling helps people work towards goals, such as becoming more confident, or getting a job.
“And it helps them feel like they’re not alone,” she says.
This week is the annual appeal for the Foundation of the Blind.
Money raised will help provide education and support services to more than 11,000 blind, deafblind and visionimpaired New Zealanders.
Volunteers in fluorescent orange vests will be collecting on the street from Friday to Sunday.
To make a $3 donation text BLIND to 469.
Cane-do attitude: Sarndra Tamepo had to learn how to cope with being blind after losing her sight seven years ago as a result of diabetic retinopathy.