Janet Stumbo shouldn’t be alive. Hers is a story of remarkable courage, tenacity and incredible determination against many odds.
Blessed with a brilliant mind, she had travelled half way around the world from the United States to Australia in 1974 to pursue a career as a veterinarian.
In 1984, she was working at her own practice in Merimbula, on the New South Wales south coast, following her dream.
One day, she was out driving. She has no memory of what happened next.
“I was told I was run off the road by a drunken driver,” she said.
“My car skidded on the side of the road and slammed into a telephone pole and a tree at the level of my head, which was hit hard enough that my skull was smashed open and knocked off the top vertebrae.
“Almost all people involved in accidents who are injured as badly as I was don’t survive.”
Every part of her brain was injured.
“My vision was severely impacted, but I wasn’t blind,” Ms Stumbo said.
“Humans store memories of faces in the right parietal lobe – I don’t have one.
“If I was to see you on the street tomorrow, I wouldn’t be able to recognise you. When my mother changed her hair colour, I couldn’t recognise her to save my life.
“There’s a paper-thin bone, which separates brain tissue from your sinuses, and it came down on my optic nerves like a guillotine, but something stopped it half-way down.
“I can see half the world, such as a person’s eyes, nose and hair, but not their mouth or facial expressions.”
Ms Stumbo was told by her neurosurgeon she was nearly blind, would never get better or work again, and she should just feel lucky to be alive. But that was never going to be enough.
“I did vision therapy exercises every day, seven days a week for 16 years, and went from no sight in my left eye to 20/20 vision with glasses on.”
Despite this, the Werribee resident eventually had to give up on her dream to be a vet.
After frequently injuring herself trying to get around, Ms Stumbo visited Guide Dogs Victoria and has started using a white cane, giving her more confidence and independence.
“It makes me feel more secure, especially when I walk down to catch the bus, the train or visit the supermarket,” she said..
Now an accomplished author and public speaker, Ms Stumbo is ever positive.
October 15 was International White Cane Day, which raises awareness of the needs of people who are blind or have low vision.