Blindness doesn’t stop BYU student

Kelli Horgesheimer
Kelli Horgesheimer, right, and companion Chelsea Heaton in Tacoma, Washington. (Kelli Horgesheimer)

Kelli Horgesheimer was diagnosed with Primary Congenital Glaucoma shortly after birth.

Primary Congenital Glaucoma (PCG) is a rare disease caused by a lack of normal eye fluid, which creates pressure on the inner eye, damaging optic nerve fibers. This damage causes the eye and the brain fail to communicate properly.

According to a 2011 article published in “Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science,” PCG, which can lead to blindness, occurs in one out of every 20,000 to 30,000 births. It is most commonly detected within the first six months of a child’s life.

Because PCG is considered a medical emergency, Kelli was taken into surgery shortly after the problem was discovered by doctors. She underwent seven eye surgeries and was able to recover some sight in her left eye by the time she was 3 years old. 

“Heavenly Father’s hand was so involved and truly is the reason I can see as well as I can today. The surgeries were very successful in helping me regain sight in my left eye and have held up to this day, which has also been such a miracle,” Horgesheimer said.

Jayci Horgesheimer, Kelli’s sister who was also diagnosed with PCG after birth, was luckier. Her parents and doctors were more prepared for the diagnosis, which always requires surgery. Today she wears corrective glasses and contacts, but can see normally with both eyes.

While Kelli still has a hard time when it comes to seeing details, reading street signs, recognizing people from a distance or reading words on the board at school, Jayci has no limitations.

Kristi Horgesheimer, Kelli’s mother, said PCG was difficult to accept as a parent.

One day after school, Kelli came home and asked her mother why she could not see things the same way the other kids could.

“This was a conversation that as a mother breaks your heart. I explained glaucoma to a six-year-old. She simply accepted what I told her and went on her way,” Kristi said. “Since that day so many years ago, I can tell you I have never heard Kelli utter one word of complaint about her visual impairment or the challenges she faces on a daily basis.”

Kristi explained that Kelli still strives to lead an inspiring life despite her visual restrictions.

“She has been blessed with incredible faith and an acceptance of God’s will in her life. She has taught me more about patience, overcoming obstacles and finding joy in what you’ve been given than any person I’ve ever known,” Kristi said.

Jason Horgesheimer, Kelli’s father, said Kelli has never used her vision as an excuse or reason to justify not giving her all.

“I am amazed how often people who have taught her in school or coached her in competitive cheer have no idea that she was legally blind,” Jason said. “They only praised her for being a wonderful leader and example to her peers and teammates.”

Kelli explained her missionary service has been a defining moment in her life and proof that the spirit has no boundaries.

She served as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from January of 2014 to August of 2016 in the Washington, Tacoma mission.

“I loved my mission and am so grateful for the learning experiences that I was given during those amazing 18 months,” Kelli said.

However, Kelli still faced trials and pushed limits because of her visual impairment.

One of the biggest challenges came while serving in the small Washington town of Elma.

“This area had an amazing ward, but it also consisted of only about 3,000 people, lots of farm land and many long dirt roads that had houses spread out to be about a five or 10 minute walk between doors without any street lights in between,” Kelli said.

In the winter months, this meant door-to-door contacting in the evenings and at night in the darkness.

“Having to navigating through this dark area starting at 5 p.m. with very little vision presented me with a difficulty that was unlike anything I ever had in my life up to this point,” Kelli said.

Often Kelli and her companion would use flashlights to help guide the way. Unfortunately, some people confused them for burglars and called the police, she added.

Kelli said she prayed for guidance and peace because tracting in the dark made her nervous.

“I was directly blessed and given a specific answer from the Lord in the form of a scripture that I think Nephi recorded in the Book of Mormon just for me,” Kelli said.

The summarized scripture explains that those who follow the commandments will be led by God. Kelli said after she read this scripture, she felt comfort and peace and was able to move forward even though the roads never physically got lighter while in this area.

Kelli’s example and leadership set a standard for her mission, according to her mission president, President John D. Blatter.

“It was a delight to serve with Kelli as she was always so positive and kind to all she associated with. She never complained, even when things were difficult for her,” President Blatter said. “She was an inspiration to the other missionaries because she was able to accomplish so much even with her sight disability.”

Kelli is now studying to become a Braille teacher for the visually impaired. Having learned Braille herself as a young girl, Kelli will pay it forward.

“During elementary school, Kelli was often asked to teach the other children her unique skill of Braille, which was often a highlight of the year for both Kelli and her peers,” Jason said.

Kelli plans to receive her bachelor’s degree from BYU in Elementary Education and then continue on to receive a Braille endorsement from the University of Utah or Utah State. She now looks forward to working with those that have gone through similar trials.

“Because I am visually impaired, I know what it’s like to struggle through school and I am so excited that I would be able to relate with these students who have similar disabilities,” Kelli said. “I can’t think of anything more rewarding than to be there for someone and make their burden a little lighter.”


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