Overcoming challenges is nothing new for Toronto’s Mayda Segal. At age six, doctors told Segal’s mother that her daughter had only five per cent vision and would never know the simple pleasure of seeing colours. In 1985, doctors at Toronto’s Clarke Institute of Psychiatry diagnosed Segal with autism.
Born with a developmental disability, and living today in a Reena residence located in North York, Segal, 63, simply refuses to succumb to her challenges, choosing instead a path of courage, perseverance and positivity.
“That’s all I do, I just keep going. I have no choice but to keep going forward,” says Segal.
Starting in 1975, Segal spent two and a half years in Jerusalem, where she attended a special Haddasah-WIZO school and learned to speak Hebrew.
“I like being Jewish and I want to learn more Hebrew,” says Segal. “I enjoy walking by myself to Beth Emeth synagogue, and sometimes I take the TTC (public transit) to other shuls, such as Beth Tzedec,” she adds.
Her father, Charles Segal, who was born in Lithuania, survived a concentration camp during the Holocaust, but lost his parents, sister and two of his three brothers.
After living in Montreal, as well as Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, Ont., her family finally settled in Toronto in 1979, where Segal lived in a Reena group home. Today, Segal does not have any family left except her sister, who is disabled and in chronic care.
Segal seems to have a survivor’s genetic makeup, explaining her courage, tenacity and will to carry on despite the odds. Yet, one fateful day, after having accepted her virtual blindness for decades, there was a new glimmer of hope.
Segal’s sister saw a story on television promoting eSight, a biotechnology company that makes electronic glasses that give people who are legally blind dramatically improved eyesight using algorithms that capture and enhance exactly what the user is looking at.
In spite of Segal’s retinal detachment and her grim diagnosis decades earlier, the eSight glasses turned her natural 20:140 vision into 20:50 vision, allowing her to enjoy the sights and vibrant colours most of us take for granted.
“It was like a miracle. I remember the first time I tried them in March of 2018. I could see bright, pretty colours, people and all the buildings outside the window,” says Segal.
Of course, man-made miracles don’t come cheap, and Segal’s life-changing eSight glasses were no exception, coming with a price tag of about $10,000.
Fortunately, the Reena Foundation stepped in and covered the cost from a portion of the proceeds raised at Striking for Reena, a popular bowling fundraiser held by the organization each May.
“The Torah states, ‘You should not place a stumbling block before the blind,’ ” says Sheila Lampert, executive director of the Reena Foundation. “Individuals supported by Reena often face multiple stumbling blocks to inclusion in the community. Our goal is to remove as many of those challenges as we can.
“One of Reena’s core values is to provide the individuals we support with a life of meaning and dignity. Mayda’s success story is a perfect example of tikun olam and what we can accomplish when we all work together.”
“Mayda is brilliant, very sweet, very strong and very independent,” says Tammy Lariviere, one of Segal’s caregivers at Reena. “Of course, she wears a safety vest and uses a cane when she’s out and about so that people will notice her.
“She was so excited about the eSight glasses since she first tried them. Now that she has them, she still needs to practise with them; and with our guidance, and being there for every training session, I hope that she will eventually be able to use them perfectly by herself.”
“I want to thank Reena Foundation and all of the people – people who don’t even know me – who went bowling and raised money for me to get these glasses that finally let me see,” says Segal. “l bowled, too, but I had to have special help to throw the ball down the alley. Next year, I plan to be there with my new, special glasses on and bowl just like everybody else. This is the best present that anyone has ever given me.”