At age 13, when most young girls are dreaming about boys and navigating their way through the perils of junior high, Ashleigh Gonzales was diagnosed with optic nerve atrophy. You can imagine how devastated she was to learn that her vision loss was not treatable.
The optic nerve carries images of what we see from the eye to the brain. A person diagnosed with optic nerve atrophy will have reduced vision, and in Ashleigh’s case her pupils no longer reacted to light.
Her doctor referred her to the Foundation for Blind Children where she began learning to read Braille and received all of her school textbooks in Braille. Ashleigh began attending SHARP (Sports, Habilitation, Arts and Recreation Program) about a year after her diagnosis and really enjoyed the activities, including crafts, cooking and games. Most importantly, she enjoyed the camaraderie with other kids who were also visually impaired. She gained self-confidence as she practiced her independent living skills and socialized with her peers.
As an older teenager, Ashleigh participated in the foundation's College Prep program. She spent several weeks one summer living as a student on the Arizona State University campus, learning to navigate the campus with assistance from the ASU Disability Resource Center.
She enjoyed that experience so much that she later enrolled and earned her undergraduate degree in molecular biosciences and biotechnology. She is currently enrolled in graduate school at ASU pursuing a master of science in biology and society.
During her 2012-13 school year, she completed a NASA Space Grant internship and during the summer of 2013 she participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program at Purdue University.
Ashleigh not only adjusted to her loss of vision but is thriving and pursuing all of her dreams with confidence.
The Foundation for Blind Children is one of 28 local charitable organizations supported by Mesa United Way. To read more "Faces of Need - and Hope" stories and to help, visit www.mesaunitedway.org.