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

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    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.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora