Sister Sylvia Staples 

When Sister Sylvia Staples began her life's vocation as a Presentation Sister in 1959, it included a 32-year commitment to education. When she retired in 1993, the commitment to education was even stronger. “I decided it was time for a second career" she said.

Her focus was on caring for the sick and elderly. She became involved with chaplaincy at Western Memorial Hospital and Pastoral Minister at Cathedral Parish in Corner Brook, NL. It gave her so much joy to be able to give back to the community.

Sylvia’s other passion was travelling. After visiting Dominica, West Indies, she felt a sense of belonging. Sylvia says, “I wanted to live there. In my heart, I always knew that I wanted to work in a developing county, and this was my opportunity.”

In the summer of 2011, while enjoying a short visit at home, an issue occurred with one of her eyes.

"I lost total vision in my right eye. My doctor suspected it may have been a minor stroke," Sylvia recalls.

On another return visit in 2012, her doctor suggested she shouldn't return to the West Indies due to concerns around Sylvia receiving proper care if something else were to happen with her vision.

It was on December 20, 2013, that things completely changed. For Sylvia, this is a day she will never forget. She recalls lying in bed waiting for the light of day so she could travel to visit her sister for the holidays. “Sister Margaret Mary knocking on my door, enquiring as to when I would be getting up," she says. "Sister Margaret explained to me that it is 8:25 in the morning. At first, I was shocked by what time it was, then by the fact it wasn’t daylight. Or so I thought.”

It was then she realized that something was seriously wrong with her vision.

"Instead of going to the airport, I was taken immediately to the emergency department where I was told that I had experienced ischemic optic neuropathy, which left me with only two percent vision. What I have left of my vision is like looking through a pin hole. At the time, no one really knew what to do with someone who was blind, so I was taken to the Nano Nagle Nursing Unit at Presentation Mother House where I began the process of adjusting to life without vision."

Seven months after that faithful day, Sylvia returned to her community of active and supportive sisters. Despite all the support, she began to accept she life was going to drastically change because now, her environment provided challenges she had never had to consider.

"Because we live in a sighted world, I never gave a second thought about the way we automatically adapt to changing environments and avoid obstacles," she says. "I began to understand that without vision, even doorways and stairs can be unsafe. It was at that time that I decided I was not going to let myself spend the rest of my life in a pity party. My ophthalmologist referred me to Vision Rehabilitation Newfoundland and Labrador, (a division of CNIB), and Alice, my orientation and mobility specialist, helped me trade in my car keys for Suzie, a white cane."

Suzie is an assistive tool to helps Sylvia navigate some of the physical challenges so that she can travel safely and independently.

"When shopping, I try my best to be independent," says Sylvia. "The training I receive showed me how to be independent and safe. However, when clothing racks in a store are suddenly in the middle of the shopping mall, or when someone leaves a sign in the middle of the sidewalk, running into it can be sometimes be embarrassing. When it happens once too often, suddenly shopping doesn’t seem to be a fun thing to do anymore."

She continues to say, "In my home, thankfully, with the help of CNIB, I am able to arrange my closet in such a way that I know where things are. The same applies in the bathroom. My toothpaste goes on my finger before it goes on the tooth brush. My friends also help me with tasks like making sure my socks match. This journey with vision loss has been an education in and of itself, and while it wasn’t exactly factored into my commitment to life long learning, it has been such a learning experience. I now know how to use assistive technology to access the internet and my email. I am learning braille and in 2018 I plan to travel again. This time I am going to Ireland."

She hopes people understand that it doesn’t matter where you live or how old you are, vision loss doesn't have to stop you from doing the things you enjoy.

Sylvia is a focused and determined individual, who had no intention of letting her vision loss slow her down. She credits the people around her for her strength, which drives her to give back to her community.

"CNIB has shown me that I can do anything I set my mind to do," says Sylvia. "Sometimes I just need to approach it in a unique way. My spirituality has grounded me and keeps me optimistic and hopeful, and I can’t thank the people around me enough for being there for me; the vision rehabilitation specialists, (CNIB) volunteers, my Presentation Sisters and my birth family. Keep up the magnificent work you do for others!"