Special to The Birmingham Times
Angelia Bailey knew something was wrong when she tilted her head back and suddenly saw red specks everywhere.
“It was like someone had thrown a paintbrush at me,” Bailey says.
In less than an hour, she was in downtown Birmingham, Ala., at UAB Callahan Eye Hospital, under the care of Dr. Robert Morris. Morris, one of the nation’s foremost retina specialists, quickly diagnosed a hemorrhage and scheduled laser treatment.
Morris is also president of the Helen Keller Foundation, which is focused on saving sight, speech and hearing through clinical research and education. He has helped spark a revolution in treatments to save vision. For example, Helen Keller Foundation researchers were the first to report a revolutionary surgery to repair the diseased macula, the human center of vision, and the procedure is now in use worldwide.
The foundation’s namesake, Helen Keller, was born June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, a small town in northwestern Alabama. She contracted a fever at 19 months that left her deaf and blind. With the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, she learned to read and write, graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College and drew international acclaim for overcoming her disabilities. Today, Helen Keller’s great-great-niece serves as vice president of education for the Helen Keller Foundation.
In that role, Keller Johnson-Thompson shares the mission of the foundation throughout the world and reaches impressionable students through a successful outreach program.
“We use our education program to go into schools and teach students, through Aunt Helen’s life, that you can overcome anything,” Johnson-Thompson says. “We use her story to tell her journey from a life of silence and darkness to a life of sound and sight. We show students she not only participated, but also made a difference in the world.” The program goes further, offering character education with a sharp focus on anti-bullying and the effects of social media.
“In today’s schools, you find many children who are different – children who are put aside from their groups, maybe because they have a disability,” Johnson-Thompson explains. “These are kids who view themselves as outcasts until they realize what Helen Keller overcame. And those who bully are able to understand the human side of what Helen Keller endured.”
The foundation provides this educational program with the sponsorship of Regions.
“I believe supporting the Helen Keller Foundation gives students the opportunity to understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of individuals with disabilities and to provide them with respect,” says Kathy Lovell, Regions’ Americans with Disabilities Act Manager. “First of all, it’s doing what is right, and it’s taking it a step further and doing more for the community and the children.”
For Morris, his mission is to pick up where Helen Keller left off a half-century ago. “She imagined what research might one day be able to do,” he says. “Now, in her name, we’re able to do the research she imagined. We teach Helen Keller’s legacy and all the lessons that come from that, starting with elementary school children. I’m very proud of it all. What Regions Bank is doing with its support is taking us by the hand and helping us give back to the public.”