Mission Moment: From Sudden Vision Loss to College Freshman

Mission Moment: From Sudden Vision Loss to College Freshman

What if your entire world changed in a matter of a few days?

Everything you knew how to do would need to be done differently.

Now, imagine if you were in high school when it happened.

Willie Solano can relate because that’s exactly how his life unfolded.

As a sophomore at Shawnee Mission (Kan.) West High School in late 2018, life for Solano was like life for most teenagers. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

Solano’s vision deteriorated. Then, one day, it was gone.

“I had no vision in my left eye at all,” Solano said. “We went to an eye doctor and they checked my optic nerve. They saw that it was really pale, so they did an emergency MRI and found a tumor. Three or four days later, I had surgery at Children’s Mercy Hospital. After the surgery, I was in recovery at home for about three weeks.”

Imagine your life being completely uprooted in less than a month.

“It was very hard… it was a lot to go through and to think about,” Solano said.

But, Solano didn’t let his circumstances dictate his life. Instead, he made a commitment to follow through on the plans he had already made. Graduate from high school. Go to college. Become successful.

Everyone can use a bit of assistance along the path of life and Solano was no different.

“My family was very supportive,” he said. “They were really devastated by what happened, but they helped me believe that I could still function. I know that I have some limitations, but I was able to show my family that I could get past everything that happened.”

Solano returned to high school and his support structure at Shawnee Mission West facilitated learning how to use a white cane, learning braille and providing tips on how to live with vision loss. After graduating in May 2021, Solano knew college was his next step. But, he also knew having a bit of extra help would ease the transition.

That’s when Alphapointe entered the picture. Solano registered for Alphapointe’s Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services program where he worked with experts to develop a plan and outline his goals. Solano started working with Alphapointe in early July 2021 and wrapped up in mid-August. Just in time to start classes as a freshman at Johnson County Community College.

“Just the thought of going to college was very scary,” Solano said. “Luckily, Alphapointe helped me become familiar with the campus. They helped show me where my classes are, where important places on campus are, how to maneuver inside and outside of buildings – Alphapointe’s really made things more comfortable for me.”

Solano also worked with Alphapointe’s team to improve an array of skills, including using a cane, using adaptive technologies and developing daily living skills to improve his independence.

“Alphapointe is really good and making you better and helping you learn things that you didn’t know existed,” Solano said. “I’ve learned all sorts of different ways of doing things. I’ve learned how to do things better around the house to make things easier. I’ve learned better ways to access computers and programs. I’ve become more confident walking with a cane. All of these things make you more feel more confident and help you be more independent.”

As a freshman college student with a full slate of classes, including College Algebra, Composition 1, Introduction to Business and more, that independence will be key to Solano’s future. And, more than just about anything, that independence is important because it allows him to serve as a role model for his two younger brothers.

“It’s been really hard for them because they look up to me,” Solano said. “When I lost my vision, it was hard for them to get accustomed to. Now, they look at me and see me doing everything and they think that if I can do these things, so can they. I always want to set a good example for my brothers and I want them to be successful. I think my situation helps them be better.”

Many people wouldn’t have been able to handle an extreme life change like what Solano encountered. But, that’s part of who he is and he’s proud of overcoming his challenges.

“People who don’t know a person who is blind usually don’t understand that we can function and that we can do lots of things independently,” he said. “But, we just need to learn how. Once we do, we can do just about anything.”