Sophomore Alex Schulte loves math. Numbers have always made sense to him. And although he hasn’t chosen a career path, he hopes he will be able to use his passion for numbers later in life. Maybe as an accountant “or a math teacher,” he said.
The only problem is, when Alex is sitting in class and listening to his Calculus III instructor, he has trouble comprehending the grids, graphs and pie charts. He can’t make out the writing on the whiteboard. Taking notes is a challenge, and while he knows there are words in the textbooks, he can’t read them.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Alex can technically read – but his textbooks are in Braille.
When he was 18, Alex, of Blaine, was involved in a terrible car wreck. He suffered broken bones and an anoxic brain injury, caused by lack of oxygen to the brain. He slipped into a coma for about 40 days. Because he was bed-ridden, he began to lose a large portion of his muscle mass. Doctors told family members that Alex probably wasn’t going to wake up, and that if he did, he would be brain dead.
And then one day, Alex woke up. He remembered everything just short of a few days, and his personality was the same as it was before the accident. The only thing that he lost permanently was his vision.
Alex is not completely blind, but he’s more than just partially blind. He used the metaphor of seeing through “the black and white fuzz on a TV screen” to describe his vision, and he also can see strong colors and some outlines.
Doctors told Alex after the accident that he would never be able to walk again. But on any given day at St. Thomas, you can catch Alex out and about, cane in hand, walking around campus.
“I proved them wrong,” he said, smiling. Indeed, he did.
Occasionally, his vision plays tricks on him. When it snows, Alex is “pretty much totally blind” because everything on campus looks white. Curbs and other slight differences in height are tough to spot. And on nice days, when the sun is shining brightly, the tan ashtrays around campus are like hidden land mines.
Can you imagine living just one day of Alex’s life? Things we take for granted, such as getting dressed on our own, packing our bags, watching TV and seeing our friends’ faces are challenges to Alex on a daily basis.
The odds are against him. Alex needs help getting food on campus, finding classrooms that don’t have Braille signs and taking notes during class. The crazy part is, it doesn’t faze him. It’s almost as if Alex welcomes the challenge. His attitude is extremely positive, regardless of the circumstances.
If there were one word to describe Alex, that word would be “courageous.” He has the courage to take advantage of his opportunities at St. Thomas, despite his physical limitations.
If you ask me, that’s pretty cool stuff.
As an on-campus resident, I see many familiar faces around campus each week. One of the faces that keeps popping up is Alex. I’ve seen him outside, walking to class. I’ve seen him eating and socializing in the cafeteria. I’ve even seen him lifting weights in the new Anderson Athletic and Recreation Center.
“I don’t like staying in my room the whole time,” Alex said.
From what I’ve seen and heard, I think the only time Alex isin his room is when he’s doing homework, for which he has a special computer.When he’s free, he said, he enjoys commuting to downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul via the city bus. Recently, he played Frisbee (of all things) with some friends outside in the quad.
“I even caught it a couple times,” he said, grinning.
Despite the setbacks that life has thrown at him, Alex is still one of us. He’s a college student who is learning new things, staying active, having fun and keeping a positive attitude. He just happens to be blind.
And while Alex may aspire to be a math teacher someday, he should know that he has already begun to teach. Through his attitudes and actions, Alex has taught me to take a little bit more pride in the things I do each day and to be a little bit more courageous about the things I haven’t done.
I’m grateful to have met him.