From darkness to 20/20 vision

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  • | 5:00 a.m. March 6, 2012
After beating blindness, Billie-Ri Memory drove a car for the first time in years Feb. 17.
After beating blindness, Billie-Ri Memory drove a car for the first time in years Feb. 17.
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Private investigator Billie-Ri Memory lost her sight in 2009 following a car crash. Today, she’s 20/20.

Billie-Ri Memory, of Palm Coast’s F-section, is not blind. But she used to be.

On the way to pay her water bill in 2009, a Hummer T-boned Memory’s SUV on Old Kings Road, causing her to lose all sight in her left eye. By the end of 2010, the darkness had spread to her right eye.

Specialists told her she would never see again.

By this time, Memory’s mother had taken her back home, to North Carolina, to take care of her. But she was the only one who knew about her daughter’s condition. Memory hid it from everybody else — not out of denial, but out of faith in God.

“I thought, ‘No, I’m not going to be blind. I’m not going to be blind! Are you crazy? I am Billie Memory, and that’s just not going to change,” she said. “This is just not going to affect me at all.”

Resolved, she visited Dr. Robert Cordero, of DeLand’s Central Florida Eye Specialists and Laser Center, who listened to her story about the crash and about the six prior doctors who all told her there was no hope.

But Cordero was undaunted. He put his hands together, she remembered, and said, “I’m committed.”

“Believe. That’s the word he used,” she added. “Believe.”

Throughout the next two years, Memory underwent “five and a half” surgeries and was almost completely house-bound, except for trips to and from Cordero’s office. She had no insurance but was aided by the Florida Division of Blind Services.

“I kept asking God to give me my eyesight back,” she said. “When you go two years without your eyesight, you begin to wonder what I did wrong … Why me?”

She dreamed of seeing her backyard again, a part of her home she had always taken great pride in.

“The first thing I wanted to see was the dewdrop in the grass,” she said. It was the simple things she missed most.

A private investigator, Memory describes herself as stubborn and impatient. Her job is busting scammers and cheats. She majored in criminal justice “before it was appropriate for women to do so.”

So, after the accident, she wanted her sight back yesterday. She was tired of waiting, and of the pain, and of the stitches and the staples, as well as the “buckle” inside her head, keeping her eye in place. And she couldn’t imagine not working.

She eventually hired a team to do legwork on her behalf and found a new way to work. They reported back to her, and she remained in the driver’s seat.

She also continued studying for an investigative accreditation exam. When she recovered just enough sight to make out shapes and color, Blind Services offered to buy her a $1,300 specialty computer to make reading easier. But Memory refused it.

Instead, she bought a jumbo-size magnifying glass and, with only a narrow tunnel of vision, she got to work on the exam.

“With three surgeries under my belt and not able to see,” she said, “I made a 99.”

Eventually, she was prescribed glasses, and their lenses continually grew thinner. Her vision today is 20/20 in her right eye and 20/30 in her left. She drove her car again Feb. 17, for the first time in years.

“I believe God gave me sight because he wanted me to see,” she said, emphasizing her final word. “I don’t think that I ever really saw the beauty that God had given me to see. I’d stopped going to the beach. Actually, I’d stopped everything but working. That had become my sport, and that’s ridiculous. You can waste all of your life working.”

But that wasn’t her only revelation.

Recently, Memory decided to apply to Harvard Law School, something she says she never would have done if not for the accident.

“Dr. Cordero gave me sight, but God gave me vision,” Memory said. “And I’m learning that those are two entirely different things. Your vision is whatever you are dreaming to become and, for me, you could not do it without sight.”

She’s also starting work on a memoir.

“I’m the lion,” she said, stroking one of her four cats and alluding to the “Wizard of Oz.” “But he didn’t have any courage. I found out what courage is recently, though. When you lose your eyesight, you quickly find out what courage is.”



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