- Associated Press - Friday, April 10, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A year ago, Deborah McAlexander lost her eyesight.

“I couldn’t see to read my music,” McAlexander said with tears in her eyes. “And I was in Hy-Vee and the things on the shelves, I couldn’t see.”

McAlexander, of Jefferson City, then went to Mason Eye Institute in Columbia, where she was told she had a cataract in her right eye - the only eye from which she could see. She lost sight completely in her left eye more than 35 years earlier.

Going into her cataract surgery last year, McAlexander said she felt terrified. Her faith, she said, is what gave her the strength.

“I thought, ‘Dear God, if your plan is for me to be totally blind, then I’m going to live with that. But if your plan is for me to get my sight back, whatever I do in my life is going to be to glorify you,’” she said.

Surgery went well, and McAlexander was once again able to see out of her right eye, but still only partially.

“I looked in the mirror and could see my face. I could see I have some wrinkles and I could see I have some gray hairs. . I couldn’t see that before,” McAlexander said. “Colors were so brilliant. . Everything was crystal clear.”

Although she could see partially, the small amount of sight in McAlexander’s right eye still qualifies her as legally blind. Now, a year after that surgery, McAlexander continues to teach piano, ride horses and hold motivational talks about overcoming obstacles - including a presentation Monday night at William Woods University.

McAlexander was 24 years old and studying the violin at the St. Louis Conservatory of Music when she first noticed a problem with her sight. She unknowingly ran into a tree branch one afternoon, falling and injuring herself. From there, she said she gradually lost her sight.

At the time, a doctor diagnosed her with a condition he predicted would slowly take all of her sight and eventually cause her to lose her hearing as well. He said she would be blind and deaf by the time she was 30. Being a music student with ambitions to be a violinist, McAlexander didn’t know what to do; she said she gave up and felt lost.

“That plummeted my life down,” McAlexander said. “I gave up doing my music for quite a while.”

She moved to California (state) and stayed with a friend. While there, she got a job and went to more doctors for consultation.

When approaching her 30th birthday, McAlexander visited a doctor who re-diagnosed her, telling her she could retain partial eyesight in her right eye and her hearing would be fine. However, the partial eyesight she had was not very much and qualified her to be legally blind. Still, this news, McAlexander said, increased her positive attitude, Jefferson City News-Tribune (https://bit.ly/1bWJTxE ) reports.

McAlexander and her husband, Jack, whom she met while living in California, moved back to Mid-Missouri and she began teaching piano.

A couple years after moving back to Missouri, she attended a five-month program for the blind in Kansas City. There, she did training with a sleep shade. She would walk around town, cook, sew, etc. - all with her eyes completely covered.

“Accepting the fact that I was there was devastating. I always thought that blindness was something that happened when you’re old or to someone who was born blind,” McAlexander said.

She met people of all ages in that program who were blind for a variety of reasons. She learned the code for braille and music braille. That program, she said, helped her immensely.

“When I got out of that school, I thought I had two choices: I could really crumple into a shell of nothing and sit on the pity pot, or I could go back to school,” McAlexander said.

When McAlexander once again began studying music, she needed someone to drive her. She contacted her church and asked if anyone could drive her to Columbia, where she attended classes at the University of Missouri. That’s when she met Martha Robinson.

Robinson first drove McAlexander around 20 years ago. Over time, Robinson said they became like family to one another.

“I think we just adopted each other,” Robinson said. “She started calling me ‘aunt’ during that time I spent driving her.”

Robinson drove McAlexander for a while, but then had to stop when her husband became ill. After her husband died, Robinson said a nurse gave her some advice.

“She said, ‘If you want to help yourself, you need to help someone else,’” Robinson said.

After receiving that advice, Robinson called McAlexander and once again began driving her to classes each week. Driving McAlexander and attending Sunday school regularly at church is what Robinson said helped her the most after her husband passed away.

She said McAlexander plays piano at their church from time to time and plays at church events often. Robinson added she has attended McAlexander’s recitals in the past and enjoys listening to her music.

“She’s a beautiful piano player,” Robinson said.

McAlexander attended school for eight years, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in piano performance by 2001.

Today, McAlexander, 61, said she sees her purpose in piano lessons, horseback riding, church and motivational speeches. She hopes to, in all aspects of her life, encourage others to maintain a positive outlook, even in the darkest times of life.

“Adversity happens to everyone,” McAlexander said. “It’s not about what happens to you; it’s about how you choose to handle the situation.”

While facing her own challenges, McAlexander helped care for her husband, who developed Parkinson’s disease about six years ago. He was in and out of the hospital and very ill, spending about a year in a nursing home. He eventually became well enough to return home.

For her business, Bravo Performances LLC, McAlexander gives piano lessons to students from age 5 to people in their 90s. Her business also includes her motivational talks, including the upcoming one at 7 p.m. on Monday in Dulaney Auditorium at William Woods University in Fulton.

She said everyone is responsible for leadership in life and, in her presentation she discusses how people can adjust their perspective, take action and stay on track during difficult times.


Information from: Jefferson City News Tribune, https://www.newstribune.com

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