News / USA

After Going Blind, Hairstylist Returns to Work

Martha Clements feels blessed despite the obstacles

Martha Clements, who is legally blind, cuts and styles the hair of Kathy Braga, her friend and client.
Martha Clements, who is legally blind, cuts and styles the hair of Kathy Braga, her friend and client.

Multimedia

Audio
Susan Logue

Faced with a life-changing tragedy, it would be easy for Martha Clements to focus on the negative. But that's not her way. Five year after losing her vision, Clements is back doing what she loves - styling hair.

Back to work

“It is long, oh my goodness, Kathy Braga,” Clements says, running her hands down the length of her client’s hair.

Braga is letting it grow. It now hangs below her shoulders and down her back, and all she wants is a trim, so she asks Clements to show her how much an inch would be.

Clements pulls a ruler from a drawer at her work station and holds it up to Braga’s hair in front near her face. “Right here. An inch will be right here at your chin.”

Clements was a hairstylist for about 10 years before losing her vision. Now, when she begins cutting, it's easy to forget that Clements is completely blind. She carefully compares the length of each strand of hair, relying on her sense of touch. Ultimately, she asks her client to “be her eyes” and check her work.

After a careful inspection, Braga gives her approval. And after Clements blows her hair dry, remarks, “You made me younger…I love it.”

Clements had been doing Braga’s hair for years before she became blind. Braga is proud to say she was Clements’ first customer after she lost her vision.

“She sat me in the kitchen. It was dark, and she said, ‘Are you ready?’ I said, ‘I’m ready.’ And that is when she took this little razor thing, and she said, ‘Look and see if there is hair on the ground,’ and I said, ‘Yes, there is.’ And she said, ‘Okay, I have the right end of the thing.’”

Brush with death

Clements was 42 years old when she suffered a pulmonary embolism that cost her her sight.

“I was dead for 20 minutes first and then half an hour, and the lack of oxygen killed my optical nerve.” The last thing Clements remembers that day was the ambulance coming to get her. “I was gasping for air. I couldn’t breathe. The next thing I remember was waking up three day days later, blind, in the hospital.”

Her ribs had been broken when they resuscitated her. Her shoulder was dislocated. She had to undergo nine months of physical therapy.   

"It was the hardest time in my life," she says, because when she lost her sight, it affected all of her senses. “Everything changed in my life: distance, smell, sounds. My kids didn’t sound the same. My husband didn’t sound the same. I didn’t know my home. It took me three months to find the coffee table.”

Learning to adapt

Once a month, a teacher from the Virginia Center for the Blind came  to her home in Woodbridge, about 40 kilometers from Washington.

But Clements was eager to learn more. So in 2008, she left her husband and teenage sons, to go to the Virginia School for the Blind in Richmond for a nine-month program. “My plan was to be able to do for my family again, to do what I like to do, cook, clean, make phone calls.”

She learned basic skills like how to navigate with a cane, how to listen and how to eat different foods like spaghetti. There were classes in Braille, computer skills and using different gadgets designed for the blind.  

Graduates of the program are expected to leave with not only life skills, but a marketable skill as well, which initially posed a problem for Clements.

“My teacher asked me, why wouldn’t I do hair. I said, ‘Hello. Blind. No, no, no.’ I was scared to think I could even do it.”

But gradually, Clements gained confidence and by the time she graduated, had styled 100 heads of hair at the school. “People from headquarters came, people from the library, students, secretaries, teachers, friends. Everybody came and let me do their hair.”

Clements now sees clients in her home.

Still grateful

Three days a week she leaves home to volunteer at the House of Mercy, a Catholic service organization that provides clothing, food and other support to the poor. Many of the clients, like Clements, who was born in Mexico, are native Spanish speakers.

While she talks with them and translates for others, Clements’ hands are busy making rosaries, used by Roman Catholics to count prayers.

Kellie Ross, executive director of the House of Mercy, remembers when Clements first showed up with her friend, Kathy Braga, to offer her help.

At first, she says, she had no idea Clements was blind. “As she started to walk I realized she couldn’t see, and I was like ‘Wow,’” Ross recalls. “She could have taken that tragic experience of losing her sight and gone inward, and instead she used that experience to help other people who are suffering.”

Clements says she feels blessed today, five years after her brush with death.

“I thank the Lord every day for my blindness, because I’m alive,” she says. “I could have been dead. I’m alive. I’m healthy, and that is what matters.”


You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid