by Jim Price
Almost from birth, Nancy Moore learned to be a great compensator. She was born prematurely with a vision problem. "I only weighed one pound, seven ounces," she said, shaking her head. "My twin brother only lasted half a day." She had retinopathy of prematurity, which progressively took more and more vision every year of her life.
But it wasn't until retirement after a 35-year nursing career that she hung up her car keys the same day as her nursing cap. "It just wasn't safe any more," she explained. The disease destroyed her ability to discern colors as her peripheral vision slowly deteriorated and the area she could see through got ever smaller. "Now it's like looking through several layers of waxed paper and a tiny peephole." But, she is likely to say on any given day, "So what?" She is 59 and it seems nothing is going to slow her down.
"Every day when I walk out that door, I remind myself I'm an ambassador for the blind," she said, the ever-present smile widening. "You never know who is watching, so, I plant a smile on my face and leave it there." She's telling her story in the lounge at the Guide Dogs for the Blind campus in Oregon. She has traveled from South Carolina to meet and train with her second Guide Dog, Giza. The two weeks of training will help them bond and prepare them both for their busy lives together back in Charleston.
"This little girl is amazing," she gushed, scratching Giza gently behind an ear. The petite black Lab sat calmly enjoying the moment. "We've only been together a week and already I totally trust her. She is just a sweetheart and even though she is only a teenager, she's doing a great job. We are going to make a great team."
When they do get home they will resume the duties of presiding over Dixie Land Guide Dog Users, an advocacy group of which Moore is the president. She is also very involved in her church, and she and new husband Max Moore are constantly on the go. She does aerobics four times a week, and is planning a cruise to Alaska later this year. Her women's group at church makes blankets for premature babies, children, and cancer patients around the world.
As her vision got worse during the latter years of her nursing career, Moore turned to teaching. She taught classes to nurses and nursing assistants. Being a teacher made the transition to being an advocate for the blind just that much easier. "Luna and I have been to many schools to talk about guide dogs and blindness. Most people just don't know how to react to us but we're making progress. Things are getting better." Over the years, Moore has been asked to speak to numerous groups, including Wal-Mart employees and a large group of US State Dept. workers.
Through it all, she still remembers vividly that first moment with Luna, her first Guide Dog, a large yellow Lab she was paired with at the California campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. "I told them I wanted an affectionate dog and they delivered," she beamed. "I got down on the floor and she just started licking my whole face. It's been a love affair ever since." Luna was recently retired, but remains at the Moore home with her buddy, husband Max.
"I'll never forget that first walk with a guide dog," she said. "Up to that point I had been using a cane and I hated it. We got off the bus in downtown San Rafael and all of a sudden we were flying! I had not walked that fast in so long. My first thought was, 'I got my freedom back!' Since then I've learned we can go anywhere anyone else does. Whether it's riding a boat, mountain climbing, to the ocean, it doesn't matter. When I had to quit driving I felt like my freedom was gone forever. Having to depend on people, well, that's just not me. I don't know what each day will bring, but I know that with my little Giza we will go anywhere we want."