Holly Polgreen stands outside the Brookline Early Education Program at Putterham.Turning 50 years old on Christmas day, Holly was excited about this magical time of year with her husband and two children, and as a speech pathologist in the Brookline Public Schools, the holidays also brought a well-deserved vacation.

Yet, Holly noticed changes in her vision. Thinking that it was an age-related condition, Holly made an appointment with an eye doctor. After a series of tests, Holly was diagnosed with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, a mitochondrial disease and an inherited form of vision loss. Holly was devastated by the news and felt that the future she had built with her career and family was in jeopardy.

Holly took a medical leave for her work and wondered if she would ever return. At that time, Holly turned to a colleague who knew Dr. Jennifer Harnish, the Director of Rehabilitation Services at the Carroll Center. Through that connection, Holly was put in touch with the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind who encouraged her to enroll in the Carroll Center in August of 2021. What began as a two-week diagnostic assessment transitioned into a 12-week residential program.

Holly’s biggest concerns before she arrived at the Carroll Center were getting back on her computer so she could return to work and understanding how to safely travel with her changing eyesight. The Center enrolled Holly in four different computer classes to ensure she gained the skills and exposure to technology, and she worked with her Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist on navigating her work and home communities.

When sharing about the invaluable lessons Holly learned while at the Carroll Center, she talks about the students that she supports as a speech pathologist, a career that she has now returned to. “Many of my students are unable to speak due to challenges they face. I remind them that just because you cannot speak, does not mean that you have nothing to say. I have transferred that to my own journey and tell my students, my family, and others, just because I cannot see, does not mean that I don’t have vision.”