Imagine going through life and suddenly having your vision slowly taken away from you. Or being told by one doctor and specialist after another that within months you will most likely be totally blind. That is the terrifying situation Hemet resident Dee Dee Barragan currently finds herself in.
Dee Dee is a wife and a mother to two children and a sister she has raised since birth, who until recently, has lived a life much like anyone else. She has always been happy, carefree, independent, and active.
Before she lost sight in one eye and began losing her sight in the other she enjoyed working as a dietary assistant at Menifee Valley Medical Center, coaching her children’s sports teams, cooking authentic Mexican meals, watching her children’s and professional sporting events, and caring for her family.
Recently married to Jorge Barragan – her longtime companion and best friend of 18 years – and with two growing and rambunctious children and a young adult in her family, Dee Dee’s future looked bright. Now that brightness in her life has begun to dim and fade, as an eye condition called retinal detachment has slowly been robbing her of her eyesight.
Although Dee Dee does everything she can to remain positive and believe there is hope to have her eyesight in at least one of her eyes restored, it is not always an easy future to look forward to.
As her eyesight has gotten progressively worse, Dee Dee has had to make changes in her life as she has quickly lost more and more of her independence.
She stopped driving three years ago, when she felt she could no longer safely navigate busy city streets. She can no longer work as a dietary assistant, as she can not get around the hospital safely without someone at her side to help guide her around. Watching her children’s sporting events is a thing of the past. Even cooking for her family without help – something that used to bring her so much happiness and joy – has become all but impossible.
While Dee Dee feels like she is losing much of her independence, she is not losing her hope for a brighter future.
“Nothing could have prepared me for this”
Dee Dee first began to experience problems with her eyesight after her second pregnancy about three years ago. Already having been diagnosed with diabetes and severe cataracts, she began to notice increasing problems with her vision.
What started as minor problems with her eyesight soon began to turn to total darkness.
Dee Dee was not the first in her family to experience eye problems. Her grandmother and aunt also suffered from serious eye conditions. But that knowledge never could have prepared her for her own ordeal.
“I always thought I had pink eye,” Dee Dee explained. “I would go in to see the doctor and they would give me eye drops, but they never seemed to help.”
Since then, Dee Dee has been seen by nearly a dozen doctors, ophthalmologists, and retinal specialists. She has already been told her condition has left her right eye damaged beyond repair. But she has also been told that with surgery to re-attach the retina in her left eye, at least a small portion of her vision could be salvageable. However, even with surgical intervention the doctors are not offering her any guarantees of regaining her vision in her one remaining good eye.
Retinal detachment and tearing happens when a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye pulls away from its normal position. The condition separates the retinal cells from the layer of blood vessels that provides oxygen and nourishment to the eye. If fluid from within the eye passes through a retinal tear, it can separate the retina from its underlying tissue. The longer retinal detachment goes untreated, the greater the risk of permanent vision loss in the affected eye.
Learning to live in darkness
“It has difficult learning how to live with this disability.” Dee Dee explained. “Not only for me, but for my husband Jorge and my family as well.”
“Before I began losing my eyesight, both Jorge and I worked,” Dee Dee explained. “We were independent and we loved our jobs. But as I have been learning to live without my eyesight I have had to become increasingly dependent on Jorge, my children, and others.”
“My children now have to help out a lot more in the house and that makes it really difficult for them because they’re so young. They do their best and they are amazing kids, but they don’t always understand.”
Hardest of all is that as a couple – who are now both unemployed – the two are now forced to confront a daily world of financial worries and stress about tomorrow and what their future what will bring.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen next or what the future has in store for us, so that causes us enormous stress,” Dee Dee explained.
Jorge, who is a cancer survivor, has worked in airplane manufacturing and worked for years at a scaffolding company in Hemet. He now finds himself unable to work, due to needing to be available to care for Dee Dee on a full-time basis.
After Dee Dee began losing her eyesight and could no longer get around on her own or go to doctor’s appointments without assistance, Jorge found himself needing to take more and more time off from work. He eventually was forced to leave his good paying job so he could provide for Dee Dee’s daily needs.
Now that the couple is faced with a surgery that will cost thousands of dollars and with no job or insurance to help offset the costs of the two surgeries she needs and the time needed to recover, the couple is facing an uncertain and even darker future.
“I truly miss being the person I used to be,
a person other people counted on.”
“I never realized how important my eyesight was. It was something that until it was failing and I was already losing it, I never could have imagined life in total darkness,” Dee Dee explained. “There are times I can’t even provide a hot meal for my kids and these are just some of the big obstacles that I face daily. It’s been really hard for me to learn how to live with.”
Dee Dee said besides losing her ability to work and the loss of her independence to do simple things such as going for a drive or shopping for groceries, the thing she misses the most is not being able to see her children as they grow up. Although she still interacts with her family, not being able to look them in the eyes or to see their smiling faces has been one of the most difficult adjustments to learn how to deal with.
“I miss their smiles. I miss seeing the twinkle in their eyes when they are excitedly telling me about their day, or when my oldest daughter tells me about her job,” Dee Dee said. “I used to cook meals for my family every day. I took my children to their sports activities all the time. I miss doing all of those things. I miss my independence.”
“I never really thought about it, but I used to love just driving to the market to go grocery shopping or to get my nails or hair done,” Dee Dee recalled. “Wherever I needed to go, even just to go for a walk in the park, I miss doing all those things because I never depended on anybody else, they actually depended on me.”
“As a dietary assistant, as a wife, as a mom, as a coach, I loved that everything I did was about helping and serving others and doing things for them, whether in my own household or at work. I miss helping everyone else out. Now my life is about others helping and serving me. I truly miss being the person I used to be, a person other people counted on.”
Just leaving the house now is stressful for Dee Dee, as she has to have someone by her side at all times, guiding her way. “Even moving around in my own home is difficult, as I learn how to safely maneuver around simple things such as the kitchen table or my young son’s toys,” Dee Dee explained.
In spite of it all, the doctor’s visits, the grim prognosis, and the looming cost of the surgery needed to try and repair Dee Dee’s remaining good eye, she remains positive and hopeful for better days ahead. She looks towards a future where she can cook for her children and a future where she can watch them grow into adults.
Even though doctors say she has permanently lost the vision in her right eye, Dee Dee is hopeful that with the right medical treatment and her much needed surgeries, she will someday regain some of her independence and at least a portion of her eyesight.
Asked what she sees for her future, Dee Dee responded, “I don’t know exactly, but I know that one way or another my future looks bright.”
Anyone willing to help Dee Dee raise the money for her much-needed eye surgery is encouraged to visit a gofundme page set up by Jorge.
Contact the writer: email@example.com
Trevor Montgomery spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg in an off-duty accident.
During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including the Robert Presley Detention Center, the Southwest Station in Temecula, the Hemet Station, and the Lake Elsinore Station, along with many other locations.
Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, Personnel and Background Investigations and he finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator.
Trevor has been married for more than 26 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 12 – soon to be 13 – grandchildren.