OKEECHOBEE — “It is the most wonderful thing in the world to see again,” said Mary Ann Franco.
Mrs. Franco, 70, was blind for more than 20 years. On Wednesday, April 6, following surgery for injuries incurred in a recent fall, she regained her vision.
While doctors have theories, they aren’t certain what happened.
“The doctor was as surprised as I was,” she said. “At the hospital, they were calling me the miracle lady. I told them all miracles come from God.”
Mrs. Franco was born in Okeechobee. Her maiden name is Powell. She went to Okeechobee High School until the 11th grade, when her family moved to Bradenton. She went to LPN school and worked at the hospital in Bradenton. Later, after she married, she lived in Ohio where she continued her nursing career and raised a family. She said she worked as an OR nurse for 22 years.
That all changed on a morning in December 1993.
“That was the worst day of my life,” she said.
“It had been snowing and raining,” she said. The roads were bad. She was on her way to work at the hospital, where she was to assist in a Cesarean Section.
Coming down a hill, she lost control of the car on the slick road. The vehicle flew off the road and went through a billboard, flipped “once or twice” and went into a ditch.
“To this day, I don’t know how I got out of that car,” she said. “I just remember walking, and falling, and getting up and walking and falling …
“I felt like something was pulling me,” she said. “I believe an angel guided me.”
She wound up at the home of a man who took her inside.
“He said I just kept saying ‘baby, baby.’ I must have had it in my mind that I had to get to the hospital to help with the baby.”
She said that somehow she had her ID and a list that she carried with important information. The man called her husband who came and picked her up.
“My husband came and took me home,” she said. She doesn’t know why he didn’t take her to the emergency room. Two days later she woke up and took herself to a doctor.
“The doctor said all I had was bruising,” said Mrs. Franco.
So she went back to work.
About a month later, she suffered a stroke.
“I came through that,” she said. “But after that I could not see.
“I was told I had a blood clot, but if they operated, it could be worse,” she said.
Mrs. Franco did not let blindness stop her from living her life.
In 1995, she and her husband moved back to Florida. She went to the Florida School for the Blind in Sarasota. “They taught me how to use the cane,” she said. They also taught her how to manage everyday tasks.
“I’m a tough lady,” she said. “Nothing’s going to stop me.”
Blindness didn’t stop her from helping people and it didn’t stop her from saving lives, including giving CPR to an infant.
“My grandson was less than two weeks old,” she recalled. “I was visiting them. I was there when he was born. He was in my lap and he just went limp. I realized he had stopped breathing. I performed CPR and brought him back.
“I was taught how to do CPR in nursing,” she said. “But I give the credit to God because without Him, we can’t do anything.”
She took care of that grandson for two years while his mother was overseas.
On another occasion, she saved her husband from choking.
“We were eating at Wendy’s restaurant and he was choking on some meat,” she said. “I told everybody to stand back. I did the Heimlich Maneuver on him, and it (the piece of food) shot out.”
When her mother-in-law’s health failed, Mrs. Franco welcomed her into their home and took care of her. Blindness didn’t matter. “I performed CPR on her three times,” she recalled.
They were living in Lake Wales when her husband’s health declined and he became bed-ridden, she took care of him as well.
“Blindness didn’t stop me,” she said. “The Lord was with me all the time.”
After her husband died, her brother Rocky Powell, encouraged her to move back to Okeechobee. She agreed, but insisted on having her own home, which she shared with a cat and dog.
A few weeks ago, she fell and was injured. There are places where the tile in her living room is uneven, she noted.
“My shoe caught on a tile. I fell and hit the back of my neck on something,” she said.
Tests revealed she had several vertebrae out of alignment and bone chip that needed to be removed.
She had surgery on April 6 at Martin Memorial Hospital.
She woke up in recovery with her vision restored.
“At first everything was hazy, and I said ‘hey lady, you in the purple, come over here.’
“Then I opened my eyes and everything came into focus and I said ‘Oh my God! I can see!’” Mrs. Franco recalled.
“Everyone at the hospital was rejoicing,” she said.
Mrs. Franco is going to follow doctor’s orders and stay home and rest to recuperate from her surgery for a few weeks.
But she has big plans.
The top of her list is a trip to Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania to see her eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
She remembers seeing her oldest grandchild, but all of the others were born after she lost her vision.
“It will be the greatest reunion ever,” she said.
She’s also looking forward to seeing her dog for the first time. Her cat, Mr. Rip, was there when she got home from the hospital on Thursday evening.
She had gotten him as a kitten 20 years ago and had never seen him before.
Her dog will not come home until Monday, she said, because the doctor wanted her to stay quiet and still for few days, and the little dog is very active.
One sight that was a shock — her own reflection in the mirror.
“Inside I feel like I’m in my 20s,” she said. “I looked in the mirror and I was shocked. That couldn’t be me. I kind of wish I hadn’t looked.”
Other future plans include renewing her driver’s license and getting a car so she go places. She also wants to find a job.
She’s ready for new challenges and new adventures.
“Everything happens in God’s time,” she said. “God is still in control.”
Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at email@example.com