Loss of sight didn’t stop Education student
- Betty Ann Adam | July 14, 2021
Stella Wilm was only three when she was in a car crash and suffered a lung injury that would one day rob her of her vision.
Wilm, 30, of Pasqua First Nation, graduated this spring with a Bachelor of Education from the University of Saskatchewan.
After high school, she entered the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (ITEP) three years in a row, but withdrew each time.
After that, she enrolled in the one-year Early Childhood Education Program at Keeseekoose.
Things were going well until early 2014, when Wilm began to experience problems breathing and with her vision. Doctors discovered her right lung was smaller than the left one – a result of the childhood trauma - and had collapsed. The lack of oxygen caused brain swelling that damaged her optic nerves. She was put on constant oxygen.
She recalls studying when her vision was so restricted, “it was like looking through a straw.”
“At first I couldn’t see the ground or my feet. Things were just blurry and then it really picked up fast and the next thing you know, I couldn’t see.”
“I didn’t know what was happening, if I would ever see again.”
Wilm clung to her determination to complete the program. She finished the written exams before her vision was gone and made arrangements to do her practicum.
“I think that was my way of dealing with things. I wanted to… finish school. It really showed me… that if I can get through this, I can deal with whatever happens,” she said.
“I had a lot of support. I was living with my parents (Leroy and Margaret Obey) and my family just all really pulled together and helped me through it.”
Over the next two years, Wilm did all she could to adjust and regain her independence. She did therapy with Raymond Jordan, who is blind. He and his wife, Jacqueline, are ministers at the Pasqua church and both became close friends.
“When I first went to university… My struggles, that was always me not knowing how to deal with my issues,” she said. Since her teens, Wilm had dealt with depression that had sent her into spirals of addiction.
“Even when I lost my sight, I spiraled, but that’s why I took the counseling. They really were there for me. They didn’t want me to fall into my old lifestyle with my grief,” she said.
In 2016 she moved to Saskatoon with her sister, Eunice Obey, who was also starting at ITEP. Wilm worked with CNIB to learn her way around campus and got to know the Education building, inside and out.
Continuing with counseling was an important part of staying healthy.
She learned to advocate for herself, introducing herself early to instructors and using the university’s excellent disability services and CNIB. She and Eunice took the same classes and shared an apartment.
The ITEP students and staff became family too; she seldom walked through a hall without chatting with someone.
“I wanted independence. That was always my plan, my goal was to be a teacher, to work and grow up like anybody wants to. I didn’t want my being visually impaired to hold me back.”
In 2019 she married Kyle Wilm, whom she’d met in 2017 and who brought son Christopher to their little family.
“When I graduated, my husband said ‘Congratulations,’ and I told him, ‘Kyle, this isn’t just my accomplishment. This is all of ours. It wasn’t just me. It was my family and my supports that helped me get this degree. I couldn’t have done it without any of them, especially my husband.”