With the blink of an eye

By: Alejandra Vazquez

“it is a terrible thing to see and have no vision” as I read these words used by Helen Keller it was inevitable to think about Shalmarie and her truly unbelievable story.

Shalmarie is “a person that inspires faith and hope” said Catalina Pagan, a former class member of her.

Shalma, her nick name among friends, experienced one of the hardest events she was going to face in her life when she was only a small child

On the afternoon of November 10, 2006 Shalmarie left school with a family friend that was taking her home.  As they were driving back to the house their car suddenly impacted a truck, she was in the back seat of the car without the seat belt on.  In those microseconds of the impact life as she knew it was about to change drastically the course of her entire life.

She does not remember the accident itself but she explained, “the only thing I can remember is the people yelling at me that everything was going to be ok”.

She arrived at the Centro Medico Hospital to endure a 12 hour long surgery were a group of multidisciplinary medical team worked simultaneously on her.  Shalmarie was only 13 when she was facing a battle between life and death on the surgical table.

Shalma won the battle between life and death against all medical odds.  Unfortunately the damage to her eye site was to severe and made it impossible for the doctors to do anything to help.  She eventually lost her eye site completely.

Her road towards recovery was one really long but relatively steady.  Shalma explain that she faced one question that, as she explained, defined the rest of her life, “what’s going to happen with me now?”

After a few months absent from school Shalma returned to finish the school year with her fellow classmate.  Little did she know, she was not the only one that changed during the recovery process. “It was a big but necessary change for all of us” said Neste referring to the returned of Shalmarie to the school.

Shalmarie’s story was one that transcended hospital walls.  Her story changed life as everyone knew it, “it showed people that when you fall it’s possible to get back up” said Neste.

Her new way of life imposed some great difficulties but as Shalma explained, she is “ready to face life head on no matter my incapacities”.

She faced a difficult decision in staying as an alumni in a high school that in no way was prepared for a visually impaired student such as Shalmarie.  In the other hand Shalmarie was not the only one being challenged, students had to adjust to their new member and teachers had to find innovating ways to teach her.  These were a difficult changed for everyone in the school.

“It was definitely challenging for all the members of the school” said Maria Lamboglia, her ethic teacher of Academia San Jose.

“She roamed the halls as if she could see, she participated in all the school activity as if nothing had changed…she was the same as all of us” said Neste explaining the typical school day with Shalmarie.

She did not only participate actively in her school she is also a member of the National Federation for the Blind, “they helped me grow into my incapacities” said Shalmarie.  She has also participated in numerous campaigns for the traffic association in which she gives conferences about her story and how it could all be changed by wearing a seat belt.

“For me is a way of showing people the importance of safety…its one of my ways of giving back to the community” said Shalmarie as she talked about her job as a spokes person for the transit association in Puerto Rico.

Shalmarie graduated with high honors from high school and is now a sophomore student with a bachelor’s degree on history in the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus.

“I never doubted that I would finish studying even though my incapacities would make it extremely hard” said Shalmarie as she spooked about her plans for the future.  “In fact knowing that it would be hard gives me more motivation to do it”.

“God gives us many blessings and we should focus on being the best we can day by day because tomorrow is never guaranteed” were the words used by Lamboglia when asked to describe the learning from Shalmaries experience.

Even though Shalmarie is in the spring of her life, her story has transcended age and gender all over Puerto Rico.  She serves as a role model to many; to which her story has touched their life in one giving day.  “She may have lost her sight but she never lost her mission in life” said Pagan.


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