WYOMING — Dr. Cynthia Kennelly was diagnosed at an early age with a degenerative eye disease, but through her struggles, she never lost sight of her goals.
Kennelly, 56, of West Wyoming, was honored this month by the Association for the Blind for her endeavors and her accomplishments.
Kennelly has Stargardt Disease, having been diagnosed when she was 7. She can only see peripherally and she doesn’t know if the disease will get worse.
For now, Kennelly lives a full life — she cooks, she does martial arts (she earned a black belt), gardening, kayaking and she has a sense of humor that keeps her motivated and evokes hearty laughs from all she meets.
“I decided early on that it was going to be up to me to take my education and make something of it — to make something of myself,” Kennelly said. “Success depends on how motivated you are. You have to have the fire inside you.”
Kennelly grew up in Pittsburgh and went to Penn State University where she earned a degree in general agriculture. Her dream was to become a veterinarian, but she soon realized she couldn’t complete the course work.
“I realized with my vision, I could never do surgery,” she said.
Needed a career
So she started a macrame business and opened a craft store in Pittsburgh. But Kennelly was still searching for a career and she chose chiropractic medicine.
She graduated from the National School of Chiropractic — now the National University of Health Services in Chicago. She graduated in the spring of 1991 and came to Kingston to work for another chiropractor, leaving in 1993 to open her own practice — 8th Street Family Chiropractic Center.
For most of her life Kennelly has dealt with frustrations and adjustments and she has made the most of sometimes difficult and trying situations. She has dealt with the realities that her poor vision brings to her doorstep and she refuses to ever let any of them get her down.
“I would tell anyone in a similar situation that there are always possibilities,” she said. “Often times people shut themselves down. I could have said there was no way I could become a chiropractor, but I didn’t.”
Using a cane
Kennelly has been dealing with a new addition to her life — her cane. She said she is embarrassed to use it, admitting that there are sometimes psychological and emotional issues in dealing with her vision problems.
“If I don’t use my cane, most people would not know that I have a vision impairment,” she said. “But if I do use it, they might think I am blind.”
Kennelly has learned to cope with her limitations, often asking her staff if she “could borrow their eyes.” She has had 50 years of experience in dealing with having poor vision; she has learned how to find controls, buttons and wires.
“Sometimes vision is wasted on the sighted,” she said. “I tell people all the time that they have to find their motivation button. There are always possibilities. You can never stop believing that you can do things.”
She has found a true friend in the Association for the Blind in Exeter, where she learned how to use her cane and has received many tools and gadgets that allow her to live a high quality of life and a safe one as well.
“I have a special knife that has a protective edge and it allows me to slice bread into equal sized slices,” she said.
She also has a closed camera monitor that magnifies everything she writes or reads. She can also read X-rays, but she tells patients not to rely on her.
“I tell them to read the radiologist’s report,” she said with a smile.
The closed camera monitor has many functions. Kennelly said she even used it to remove a splinter from her hand.
“The technology that is available today to help visually impaired people is amazing,” she said.
Kennelly said many of her patients don’t realize she is visually impaired.
“When they find out I have a vision problem, I assure them that they are safe,” she said.
Kennelly said the love of her life, Charlie Umphred — co-owner of Scent-Sations, manufacturers of Mia Bella Candles in Wilkes-Barre — has been solid in his support and love.
“Charlie and I hold hands, not because we have to, but because we want to.”
Agency’s helping hand
Sara Peperno, executive director at the Association for the Blind, said Kennelly has been a client of the agency since the 1970s. She said Kennelly is an independent individual who does not require constant assistance, but when she needs a helping hand she knows where to turn — and she has.
Jennifer Throop, director of services, said Kennelly has benefited from many services from rehabilitation to advocacy.
“We installed hi-marks (tactile markings) on appliances in her home and her business; allowing her to safely and independently operate her appliances,” Throop said. “We have provided transportation, audio books, and recreation services to Cynthia on numerous occasions throughout the years. We have made referrals to help connect her with other service-providing community organizations.”
Kennelly said the Association for the Blind has made it possible for people like her to optimize their abilities and succeed in their endeavors.
“I know, at this moment, I am blessed to have some sight,” Kennelly said. “And if my sight worsens, then I know the association will be there to help me discover new ideas and tools as needed.”
Obstacles of life
Kennelly said everyone comes face to face with a dilemma or obstacle at some point in their lives.
“But an obstacle becomes a mere challenge when we are actively searching for the solutions,” she said. “Just like a puzzle, let your mind search the avenues of possibilities for the solutions.”
Kennelly said the stuff that we all have inside us to achieve, accomplish and contribute is what makes us essential.
“Take it from me, you really can make a difference,” she said.