PILOT MOUNTAIN — While many attribute sports prowess or business acumen when identifying heroes, the true hero could be described as someone who rises above insurmountable obstacles to give to others despite, not because of, adversity in their lives.
When Washington Irving said, “little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune, but great minds rise above them,” he could have been talking about local teen Alyssa Foster.
Three years ago, Foster was accidentally shot in her Mount Airy home, leaving the then-12-year-old permanently blind.
The shooting resulted in a month-long stay at Brenner Children’s Hospital at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center followed by another month at Levine Children’s Hospital at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.
Foster underwent more than a dozen major and minor surgeries to reconstruct her face, but remains blind.
It has been a long road to return to some form of normalcy for the teen, but she isn’t letting the accident change her spirit.
And she isn’t apprehensive about teaching others about her condition.
Recently, Tina Bullington’s sixth-grade class at Pilot Mountain Middle School were studying Helen Keller’s novel “The Story of My Life.” When Foster’s mother and employee of the school, Liz Foster, learned about the class’ interest in the condition of blindness, the elder Foster told her daughter about it and asked if she would be interested in providing the class with a personal perspective.
Now 15, she hastily agreed.
The result was a visit to the school to show the students what it’s like to be a blind teenager.
Since the October shooting, Foster has had to re-learn everything she once took for granted, she told the class.
Visiting classes taught by both Bullington and Rhonda Taylor, the teen discussed and showed the students several tools she now regularly uses to function in a sighted world.
Her wrist watch speaks the time, her calculator and alarm clock also talk to her.
She brought books written in Braille to the class, as well as her Braille writer.
To have someone standing there discussing what it’s like to be blind hammered the issue home for the students, the teachers said.
“Understanding the experience of being blind is something children at this age have difficulty grasping,” Bullington said. “Having her come and speak not only helped them to understand how someone with a disability copes with day-to-day obstacles, but also allowed them to see that even when met with adversity, as Alyssa was, a person can still lead a happy and full life.”
It was a demonstration that touched the students in both classes, Taylor added.
“The kids talked all afternoon about how great it was to hear about life from Alyssa’s point of view,” she said.
Both teachers touted the teen’s ability to motivate, saying that her positive attitude and willingness to discuss such a personal matter with the sixth-graders was “very inspirational and meaningful.”
One student, Samantha Laws, said Foster’s visit changed her perspective about people with disabilities.
“It was really inspiring to hear her story and know how difficult it is for her to be blind as a teenager,” she said.
Asked how the accident changed her life, Foster was characteristically upbeat.
“It has drawn our family closer, she said.
The Foster family will be moving to Colorado in the summer, where Alyssa will be attending a special school for the blind.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.