was born to Beatrice and Leo Meddens on the island of Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles (formerly
known as the Dutch West Indies) about 35 miles off the
northern coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea.
a young girl, Laura's family moved to
England where they lived in Damer Gardens in Henley-on-Thames, and she
and her sister Myriam attended school there, and later in Ireland and
Netherlands. Laura has fond memories of the family's picnics in the
English countryside and trips abroad.
Laura attended university in the Netherlands, and then
returned to her tropical roots in Curaçao to finish her degree and earn the funds to be able to take a trip around the world. Her
long range travel and study plans were abruptly interrupted when
she consulted a local eye "specialist" for treatment of an eye
Both eyes were lasered and Laura immediately went from 100%
vision to 0.1%. As is the case with many people on the island who let
"pride go before a fall", the physician overstated his qualifications
and Laura has a copy of a letter where he even admits to doctors in
the Netherlands that he had made what he
characterized as a "stupid" mistake and wonders how different the
outcome might have been if he had referred her to eye surgeons there
sooner, instead of waiting to treat her after his vacation.
operations in the Netherlands helped to restore about 30% vision in both eyes,
but again, medical negligence would take a terrible toll on Laura. An
anesthesiologist failed to note her requirement for insulin and she
almost died on the operating table.
This carelessness cost her the
sight in one eye and significantly reduced it in the other, a horrible
setback after the trauma of multiple operations to try to undo the original damage. As
Laura says, " This was utterly devastating to me, but after going
through the natural phases of shock, fear, anger, grief and acceptance,
I was determined not to crawl away and hide in a corner".
thanks to her mother Beatrice, husband Stephen and several friends,
especially Alan & Jenny Waters for their support during this very
difficult phase of her life. Never one to feel sorry for herself, and never wanting to be pitied by others, Laura went on to have two children,
Michael and Gabrielle, who are the lights of her life.
Laura has always
been a very hands-on mother, right down to changing diapers, and later,
after the children started school, she balanced the demands of
motherhood with the resumption of her university studies in Psychology
via JAWS text reading/writing software on her computer, and starting sculpting in clay and throwing pottery. Always a self-starter, Laura obtained the resources necessary to resume her studies by approaching the Vertegenwoordiging van Nederland in de Antillen
(VNW - Dutch Government Representatives) which provided funding for a
computer, specialized software and a 'talking' cd player.
But the funds
had to be directed through a local Foundation for the blind and
visually impaired, Pro Bista, where she faced an unexplained six month
delay, missed the start of her semester, and received only two floppy
disks. The VNW had to intervene to finally obtain everything, contrary
to the revisionist claims of Pro Bista's Director.
While her academic studies
resumed, Laura soon grew tired of having to bother family and friends
to get around everytime she wanted to break free of the social
isolation her limited vision imposed on her. One of the things she
missed the most after her vision was damaged, was the freedom of
driving her car. That dependence on family and friends can be quite
daunting for people who lose their sight after being relatively
independent for most of their life.
Laura recently was
approached in Curaçao by a woman who said her mother had recently lost
her sight and felt ashamed that she was now what she considered to be a
'burden' on her family, even though the family felt otherwise. It was a
feeling Laura could relate to very personally. The opportunity
to do something about it evolved after Laura saw an item on television
about how guide dogs opened up new opportunities for independence for
people with vision, hearing or mobility loss or impairment.
Laura again approached Pro Bista, but they weren't interested and didn't believe she could get a dog. Geleidehondenopleiding
Ans L'abee' is a school for guide dogs in the Netherlands that help persons who are blind, visually or
hearing impaired as well as those with balance or mobility
difficulties. Its founders, Ans and Eveline, were the first people to
help Laura try to achieve more independent mobility. Ans L' Abee evaluated
whether Laura was capable of working with a guide dog , and tried
initially to get a guide dog for her, but, unfortunately because Laura
was not a resident of the Netherlands and wasn't insured there, this
However, Ans put her in touch with the KNGF who then
referred Laura to The Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey in the United States. Laura is very grateful for the help she received from Ans and Eveline and is happy to refer others to their fine school.The
Seeing Eye has been operating since 1929. What would subsequently
transpire would significantly change Laura's life and her sense of
independence and freedom of mobility. Getting out became a wonderful
But, 'getting in' to many places normally
sighted people go in Curaçao and even in Amsterdam, became quite a
challenge as she and her guide dog Wagner were refused access to many
places. You can read more detail about Laura's training in Morristown, and her subsequent experiences with
Wagner in Curaçao and the Netherlands, in the article The Seeing Eye asked her to author, here.
a friend designed a website to be used as the online base for a TV
documentary of Laura's experiences and to chronicle guide dog access
issues around the world as an educational resource to lobby for access
legislation in Curaçao and the Netherlands Antilles, Laura thought it
could be a springboard to provide additional resources for disabled
people in the region.
In February, 2008, The Laura And Wagner Foundation
(LWF) was formed as a Curaçao-based non-profit Foundation to raise
awareness about, and lobby for, access rights legislation for the
disabled and their guide and assistance dogs; to help obtain such
service animals for people who are living with vision, hearing or
mobility loss, as well as epilepsy; and lobby for the establishment of
a 555 HelpLine for the disabled in the region (the '5' on any keyboard
has a raised dot on its surface as an orienting tool for the blind or
visually impaired), among its goals.
These days, Laura
commutes between Curaçao and Amsterdam as she tends to her children, administers the Foundation's projects, participates in the
development of the Foundation's ABLED Initiative.
Laura isn't one to seek out the spotlight and hates people making a
fuss about her, she has learned from others that by having the courage
to stand up and tell her story, she is inspiring many of her fellow
islanders who have felt the same cultural shame and social isolation to
speak out. They are now adding their voices to the campaign for
access rights and in raising awareness about the fundamental equality
and dignity disabled members of society shouldn't even have to be forced to ask for.
Considering everything that Laura has gone through over the years, the words of the pioneering advocate for persons who are blind and/or deaf, Helen Keller are certainly relevant, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the spirit be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."
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