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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs