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Alan Neves, Deseret News
A patient learns what tools and technology are available to help with her vision problems in Salt Lake, Thursday, June 28, 2012.
One of the great payoffs for me with this work is that I've been able to witness the majesty of the human spirit. People get knocked to their knees and they pull themselves up. With the right information, the right support, they do it —Dr. Julia Kleinschmidt

SALT LAKE CITY — Having to adapt to going blind or lost of vision can be a very scary experience.

Dr. Julia Kleinschmidt has been guiding people into the darkness for 21 years, while at the same time giving them hope, as the director of patient support at the John. A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah. After helping thousands of people, Kleinschmidt retired last month.

The simplest things, like crossing a street, are all new and potentially terrifying for people losing their vision.

"It's easy to feel just overwhelmed," said Kleinschmidt, "to feel sad, to feel angry. Why me?"

Kleinschmidt doesn't exactly welcome newcomers to the world of reduced vision. But she's a reassuring voice, showing them there are ways to cope.

She encourages them to see what they can do and not focus on what they can't. She began orientation sessions for newcomers 21 years ago. Kleinschmidt figures she's helped up to 4,000 patients and their families over the years. They've ranged in age from newborn babies to 102 years old.

"I'm very encouraged," said patient Shirre Jensen. "I think this is a wonderful, wonderful thing that (she's) doing."

For years, Kleinschmidt has been giving patients a night at the Utah Opera. At dress rehearsals, patients get a braille program and are given the chance to handle props and costumes, feeling what they are unable to see.

"Some of them have never been to an opera before," she said. "This is their chance to really enjoy it, despite their limitation."

Kleinschmidt leads a variety of support sessions. Bette Sims has been attending for more than 20 years.

"I just wouldn't miss it now," she said, adding that the sessions boost morale when she's feeling down or overwhelmed.

"It's so important to come and have Julia say that you're OK, everything is going to work out," she said.

Kleinschmidt says everything she does is for her patients and the rewards are great.

"One of the great payoffs for me with this work is that I've been able to witness the majesty of the human spirit," she said. "People get knocked to their knees and they pull themselves up. With the right information, the right support, they do it."

E-mail: hollenhorst@desnews.com