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Mary K.

"It felt so good to actually feel normal again."

Growing up in a family of 12, you develop your preferences pretty quickly.

If you like attention, you’ll find it. If you want to sit back and observe instead, you have space to do that, if you try hard enough. With a dozen kids running around, everyone has a role to play. 

Mary knew early on that she was more of an observer than a performer.

“I was never the type who liked attention brought to me,” she laughed. 

As the sixth of 12 children, she spent most of her childhood working in the fields with her family. They were hardworking because they had no choice but to be.

“It was very difficult growing up and always having to work,” Mary explained. “We weren’t as fortunate as some others, but it did give me a strong work ethic that I’ve carried throughout my life. Knowing that you had to work to get what you needed – that stuck with me.”

Mary graduated from high school and stayed in the central Texas area, meeting her eventual husband and getting married at age 34. She had her three children late in life - her oldest son is 30, and her two daughters are 22 and 19.

“They have a close bond,” she told us. “They enjoy being around each other, and I’m blessed to see that they have that relationship.”

That closeness and dependability on one another would come into play down the line – just not in the ways Mary could have ever imagined. 

She applied that strong work ethic to her career, dedicating over 20 years of service as a special needs teacher. “I really loved that job,” Mary said. “I miss it so much. It’s been hard not working there anymore since this happened. That was my heart, and I really enjoyed it. I’d still go to work with them if I could.”

But things began to take a turn for Mary in 2016.

After her youngest daughter was born, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune and inflammatory disease. Though her joints hurt and she had increased pain, Mary couldn’t afford to stop working. She kept pushing forward. 

Later that year, she divorced and now faced life as a single mother with two girls at home.

“I had to work to keep a roof over our heads,” she explained. “So I maintained three jobs. I was a teacher’s aide and a bus driver (waking up at 5am each day), and I would pick up jobs on the weekend just to make it. 

“I would babysit, worked at a convenience store, worked in fast food restaurants…anything I could. And I didn’t have time for myself. I think maybe I should have, but I don’t know. I just didn’t have time to think of my health.”

Mary developed a rash during COVID-19, and around that same time, she got a call that her brother had died from complications of the virus. Before she traveled, she decided to see a doctor because the rash had gotten worse. They sent her to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with diabetes. 

Worst of all, she later contracted a rare and serious fungal infection called mucormycosis that settled in her left eye. 

“They couldn’t save it,” Mary explained. “I was in the hospital for six months and my eye had to be removed. I had to re-learn how to walk, find my balance, and adjust to using only my right eye.

“It was horrible,” she continued. “Not the doctors or staff - they took care of me - but just being there. At one point, they said they were going to send me to hospice, and that was it. They said there wasn’t much they could do for me.

“Many people who get mucormycosis don’t make it. I was told I was fortunate.”

While she was fortunate to be alive, that doesn’t mean she was spared from the most challenging time of her life. 

“I would dream that I was walking or running, and then I would wake up and I was just stuck in bed. I lost so much muscle and mobility and needed to use a wheelchair. It took me months, almost a year, before I felt comfortable enough even trying to take steps on my own. It’s nothing I want to go back to again.”

Once she was released from the hospital, she realized her desire to blend in would be more difficult than ever. 

Mary had just spent six months in the hospital. The last thing she wanted to do was endure another surgery. 

“I knew people were going to stare; it’s human nature,” she said. “How many one-eyed people do you see? But I was never the type who liked attention brought to me, and after this all happened, I got a lot of attention and a lot of stares.”

Mary started wondering if there was another option that could keep her from enduring another lengthy hospital stay while giving her some sense of normalcy back. Maybe she could find something that could cover the area where her left eye had been, and not just a patch.

She started doing some research and found a few places that offered options for prosthetics. 

“But the price they gave me made me think, ‘Oh, there’s no way,’” Mary explained. I’m on a fixed income, and there’s no way I could get all of that done. It would take me years. But that’s when my daughter started looking around and found Chive Charities.”

Mary decided to apply on the one-in-a-million chance we might be able to help someone like her. And her courage paid off.

Through the continuous support of our dedicated family of donors, Chive Charities funded the cost of an ocular prosthetic and hotel stay for the procedure for a total impact of $11,052. 

“You don’t know how much you’ve changed my life,” she told us. “The first time after I got the prosthetic, going into Walmart, and just going. Not having the stares. Just going. That felt so good to actually feel normal again. I’m just so happy to have found you.”

We’re happy she found us, too. 

It should go without saying that if someone loses an eye, having it replaced would be a given. And not without needing an additional 2-3 jobs just to pay for it. Until that’s a reality, we’re thankful for people like you who so selflessly support people like Mary. 

We’re here to champion the underdogs, to serve the underserved, to be the last stop on the journey. If you’d like to be part of changing more lives, we’d like to have you. Become a monthly member and DONATE HERE.

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