Marie-Christine Ricignuolo: Life is beautiful, even blind

Photo by Vincenzo D'Alto

By/di Kayla-Marie Turriciano

Marie-Christine Ricignuolo is someone who enjoys challenges. She used to dance and run, she liked learning languages in school, she drove.When it was time for CEGEP, she applied to Dawson College, despite having a limited English vocabulary. She was accepted and went on to study cinema. She worked at the post-production Apollo Studio. After Dawson, she studied administration and became an office manager at Bookmark, where she found a job she hoped to keep until she turned 65.

But then she lost her vision.

Ricignuolo has had glaucoma since birth, but it was under control until she gave birth to her son in 2016. During labour, the pressure in her eyes dramatically increased, and doctors could no longer control it.

Glaucoma is a degenerative eye disease where pressure behind the eye affects the optic nerve, affecting vision. It can be controlled with medicated eye drops and surgery in some cases, but it could lead to vision loss and blindness.

In February 2018, after Ricignuolo’s multiple non-successful surgeries, doctors couldn’t intervene any longer. “They tried everything, but nothing worked,” says Ricignuolo. “The architecture of my eye is completely undone.”

After all the attempts and failed plans, doctors thought it was best to leave her eyes alone for fear of worsening her vision. “I try to be a positive person; I think it’s a choice,” she says. “But when I lost my vision to the point where I couldn’t drive anymore, I couldn’t even find the door to go out of my house, that was very panicking and I was not so positive.”

Despite doctors telling her they weren’t going to try anything else, Ricignuolo—whose paternal grandparents are from Avola, Sicily—wasn’t ready to back down. “It was hard for me to accept that they didn’t want to try anything else. I wanted to go to another country to get operations,” says Ricignuolo. “Accepting that others no longer wanted to help me regain my vision was the most difficult. Ça me faisait chier.”

“Fine, with no more options, I’m going to go on Amazon, buy a gun and shoot myself,” she remembers thinking. “I didn’t want to live anymore,” says Ricignuolo. “It was like it wasn’t possible for me to live [without sight].”

Ricignuolo looks pensive for a second then says with a laugh, “I don’t know why I didn’t kill myself in the end.” She then starts talking about her son—he has the same disease and has already lost his right eye to an infection—and how he gave her strength along with the people she surrounded herself with.

The 31-year-old credits her positivity to focusing on pleasures in life that don’t require sight: the love she shares with her son, family and friends, laughing and podcasts. “It was just about changing my ways,” says Ricignuolo. She compared these changes to someone moving to China and not knowing the language, or how to get around and so on. It was scary and tough at the beginning, but she got used to it.

Recently, Ricignuolo participated in a documentary to be released in January about people with disabilities trying to re-enter the job market. “I want to share as much as possible in the hopes that it will help people,” says Ricignuolo. “I’m trying to take the negative and turn it into a positive and share that with everyone.”

There’s a misconception about blind people: they don’t all see complete blackness. For Ricignuolo, while her right eye no longer functions, she can still see light in her left eye and, sometimes, even some colour and movements.

“Probably part of what helped me when I lost my vision was my family, which is the most important,” says Ricignuolo. “The values that my paternal grandmother passed on to me are so rich. She always tells me ‘su con la vita!’”

Photo by Vincenzo D’Alto