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DAN Profile: Cheryl Echivarria

Cheryl and her guide dog Maxx at the 2007 NFB Convention in Atlanta.I have had diabetes since I was 16 years old which is more than 20 years. In 2001, complications took my eyesight and my kidneys. I felt like my life had ended because dialysis took my strength from me three times a week for three and a half hours a day. I was always tired and sick. Finally, my good friend Steve Carroll gave me one of his kidneys and saved my life.

Once I felt better from the transplant, I started to deal with not being able to see. I had heard about the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and was able to call and get a mentor, who was so nice and helpful. After a fight with administrators at the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped in New York, I got training for homemaking. That included using the oven, knife skills, marking our clothes so that I could differentiate between mine and my husband’s – things that sound easy but when you first lose sight they seem hard.

To manage my diabetes with just 10 percent of my vision I used a magnifying glass that goes over the insulin syringe. Then when I lost more vision I switched to the insulin pen and that’s a life saver because I hear the click for each unit. I had to get used to it but now it’s easy. I know some blind people who use a pump and like it. For my blood sugar I love my new Prodigy Voice meter. I was a beta tester for the NFB Diabetes Action Network (DAN) on that product. I also learned Braille -- I think it’s important to use Braille because you can’t always rely on technology, but I have problems with it after a while because of nerve damage in my fingers so it starts to hurt. And I got my guide dog, Maxx, who is my best friend (besides my wonderful husband!).

After learning to cope better with the blindness I decided I wanted to take a medical billing/coding course and get certified. After the fighting and denials I was becoming an old hand at sticking up for myself. For most of my younger life I let others tell me what was what, but when I was sick I learned that I can’t let people walk all over me. I got into the medical billing course and from the moment I went to the school it was a hardship. But despite the administration not being helpful, I got my certification and met some of the closest friends of my life. One of them even said that I was her hero, which made me cry.

One of the best and most courageous things I did is join the NFB. I have grown and become more independent. I went alone to the NFB national convention in Atlanta last summer and it was a wonderful experience! Not all blind people are willing to do that but life is too short to stay home! I met so many people from around the country. And the NFB has so many sections and meetings like the Guide Dog Division, Student Division, Jobs Network, The Slate and Stylus; which is the writers division, and of course the Diabetes Action Network. I was so excited to be there and to be in the first March for Independence.

Since joining the NFB, I can say I am doing something important in my life and making a difference. In November of 2007, I was elected the Treasurer of our chapter. Maybe one day I will be a chapter president. Last August I was invited by the NFB President, Dr. Marc Maurer, to a leadership seminar. I was honored when he said that I was opening doors for blind people to learn a new profession. I have also been awarded a scholarship and would like to continue my education by getting my Associate’s degree in health information technology.

Being blind has helped me look at the world in a different way. When I first lost my vision, one of my new friends said to me that we are the only group in the world that doesn’t care what you look like. We just care about the person inside. One step at a time. That’s all it takes.