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Blind student Alyssa Blaser tragically lost both parents in separate car crashes at the age of eight

Blind student Alyssa Blaser tragically lost both parents in separate car crashes at the age of eight

Blind student Alyssa Blaser tragically lost both parents in separate car crashes at the age of eight

A student who lost both parents in separate car crashes at the age of eight has told how despite her gradual blindness she is determined to reach for the stars and achieve a masters at the University of Limerick.

Limerick woman, Alyssa Blaser, now 27, has had less than easy start to life, having lost both her parents within a year apart at the age of just eight.

Raised by her grandmother, Tessa, in Castletroy from age 9, Alyssa recalls symptoms of her current sight condition known as Stargardt Disease starting at just age 13.

Stargardt disease causes progressive damage—or degeneration—of the macula, which is a small area in the centre of the retina that is responsible for sharp, straight-ahead vision.

“In school the teachers didn’t believe me that I couldn’t see until I was diagnosed by a specialist. They would say, ‘look at me when I’m talking to you.’ To look at me you would never know that I am legally blind.”

Alyssa explains how she now has no central vision, just peripheral vision.

“So, when I look at something straight like your face it’s a big black blur, but when I look from the side of my eye, away from you, I can actually see you”.

Stargardt Disease is a recessive disease, meaning that for Alyssa to show any symptoms, both of her parents must have been carriers.

“You have to be very unlucky” explains Alyssa. “Both my parents had this gene that they didn’t know about. My grandmother is a carrier and it has been in the family for generations, but nobody knew this until I was diagnosed.”

Alyssa has noted that support has grown for her condition from an academic perspective;

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Brave Alyssa Blaser is determined to achieve a Master's degree

Brave Alyssa Blaser is determined to achieve a Master's degree

Brave Alyssa Blaser is determined to achieve a Master's degree

“When I did my Junior Cert 12 years ago, I was given enlarged exam manuscripts and an extra 15 minutes time to do my exam, but I had to scan through every single letter to get the word, I should have gotten more. But in fourth year I received a special needs assistant and that was good.”

Although Alyssa explains how for the first few years, she received no support from the HSE to cover eye specialists, which was difficult, she was supported greatly by The National Council for the Blind (NCBI) that really helped benefit her academic studies.

Alyssa is currently working for the NCBI throughout Ireland. A gifted athlete, Alyssa has also completed a Charity tandem cycle around Venice to benefit the organisation.

“It was something that I didn’t think I would enjoy as I was so nervous and afterwards, I was like wow. In the lashing rain and lovely sunshine, it was great,” Alyssa added.

Despite being diagnosed as legally blind, Alyssa went on to have a successful Leaving Certificate, getting all honours in her honours subjects, and securing a place in the BA of Arts in The University of Limerick (UL).

Alyssa added that the Disability office in the University, were very supportive towards helping her with her condition, yet she wanted to study the same way as other students;

“They gave me special technology and so much help. But at the time I wasn’t using the technology, I wanted to read it myself without help. I wanted to be like everyone else”.

After two years, Alyssa left UL and went on to study holistic therapies – something she had used for relief when dealing with her sight condition and the loss of her parents at such a young age.

“It was massage I was learning, and it was my ideal job, as for massage you do not need your eyesight, it is all touch,” Alyssa said, adding that she felt having a visual impairment gave her an advantage in this role;

“When one sense is gone, your other senses are heightened like my touch and this made me a better masseuse”.

In her early 20s Alyssa went on to gain certified qualifications in Full Body Massage, Reiki, Indian Head Massage, Aromatherapy Massage and Reflexology, whilst also competing courses in Sound Therapy, Yoga, Homeopathy, Mindfulness and Herbalism.

Alyssa plans to return to UL in future, to start another degree, with the goal of eventually being a qualified master’s student at the University;

“I have great support in UL. In September I will be studying Psychology and Sociology at UL, I am also fluent in Spanish, so I hope to incorporate that in”.

Alyssa added that she when she first came to UL in 2011, she lacked the confidence to engage socially, due to her sight condition and self-esteem issues around her appearance. Alyssa has recently lost three stone following a healthy diet plan.

“I felt like I didn’t want to meet new people in case they ask about my sight, and maybe I was self-conscious about my weight or something, but now I do feel that I would be more confident in UL”.

Despite the events of her past, Alyssa is very positive on her outlook.

“It’s not like I am misfortunate. I have so many supportive friends. My grandmother always encouraged me to go to support meetings for visually impaired people and I was like I don’t need to, I’m like everyone else”.

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