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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid