Facing an unknown, yet seemingly unavoidable, time line until her life is lived in total darkness and silence, Argyle resident Brenda Kuketz’s bright attitude is what amazes everyone.
Merriam-Webster defines tunnel vision as extreme narrowness of viewpoint. Synonyms of the word coined in American culture during the 1940’s include blind side, myopia, or shortsightedness. Kuketz suffers from tunnel vision of the eyes, but not tunnel vision of the heart and will.
When Kuketz was just a girl, she literally began seeing green dots. One day, while kicking a ball in the back yard, she ran right into a tree without even seeing it. Shortly after that incident at the age of 7, the fear that something was wrong with her vision was confirmed. She was diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa, a condition that leads to incurable blindness and is characterized initially by night blindness and tunnel vision. By the age of 16, she had completely lost her peripheral vision.
Now 41 and partially blind, Kuketz says she has lived a pretty normal life in spite of her failing vision. “I never learned to drive,” said Kuketz, “My Dad bought me two horses instead. Growing up, my friends were very supportive of me and took me anywhere I needed to go. I met my husband when I was 14 years old. We grew up together and we’ve been best friends ever since.” Currently, Brenda struggles with constricted tunnel vision and blurriness and as her vision deteriorates, she accepts the medical fact that blindness is a certainty apart from a miracle.
In addition to her progressing eye disease, Brenda recently began to hear high and low pitches and was dizzy at times. She was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome (Type III) and will eventually lose her hearing as well. “I’m a good candidate for hearing aids. I’ll just have to rely on my other senses when that time comes. I’ll cross those bridges when I get to them and the Lord will open and shut those doors as he sees fit,” she said.
George and Brenda Kuketz have been married for almost 20 years now and have two boys, Trevor, a senior at Argyle High School and Tanner who is in the 7th grade at Argyle Middle School. Retinitis pigmentosa is both genetic and hereditary, and while both of her boys are carriers of the gene that causes this disease, the gene has never been traced in Brenda’s heritage prior to this generation.
“I have my moments, but for the most part, I have lived and continue to maintain a normal life. When my kids were born, we lived in a Grapevine neighborhood that was close enough for me to walk to preschool and the grocery store. Later, we took a huge leap of faith and moved to Argyle on three acres. Even though I’m a country girl at heart, this was a huge adjustment. I’ve had to put down my pride and use public transportation for the first time. I knew if I wanted to maintain my independence I would have to come to grips with riding the bus at times, and I have,” though since her son Trevor began driving, he has played an active part of his Mom’s “carpool”, dropping her at the destination of her choice from time to time.
Brenda had been a stay at home Mom for 17 years when she became acquainted with two sisters, Desiree and Denise, initially through her involvement at a Bible study at Cross Timbers Community Church in Argyle. As it turned out, Desiree and Denise are the daughters of Johnny and Jane Gonzales, owners of Papi’s Tex Mex Restaurant in Argyle.
“My friends realized that I was itching to get out of the house,” said Brenda, “They introduced me to their parents and discussed how they could accommodate me with a part-time job at the restaurant. I trained for a month and then worked two days a week, now I work as morning hostess on weekdays and I love my job.”
“She’s one of my best hostesses,” said Jane Gonzales. “She really focuses on patrons and always turns to watch the door while seating them. We love her. She has a beautiful and wonderful personality. We are so blessed to have her.”
In addition to receiving mobility training a couple of years ago, Brenda learned Braille at The Hadley School for the Blind and recently began working with the Commission for the Blind, a state-funded organization that provides counselors and assists the impaired with independence training.
Brenda has made living life like everyone else such a priority, that her impairment is nearly undetectable to others. “In spite of my disease, I’m still very much into clothes and makeup! This is not always easy. I thought I bought a blue top the other day, only to realize later that it was purple. I wear permanent eye liner and use a magnifying mirror to apply my makeup. I’m not gonna be a blind lady who throws her hair back in a ponytail! I still am into my wedge sandals, even while using my cane. Most people would never really know I have an eye disease. I know the restaurant well enough to walk without my cane, but it is not without challenges. Since my disease is not obvious, some of the waitstaff don’t know, and it can get really hard at times.”
When asked how she keeps such a positive outlook in life Brenda said she would encourage anyone going through a difficult season of life to just push forward. “Everything is an opportunity. Don’t be afraid to try new things. I remember being a kid and having my parents freak out because I wanted to roller skate or ride a bike. The doctor would say, ‘When she’s unable to do it, she’ll stop.'”
Like every other parent, she attends her sons’ football games, though she can’t see anything happening on the field. As for her future, she copes by just taking one day at a time. “I can’t dwell on it too long. I can’t stay there in my mind. I just try to put one foot in front of the other each day. There are days that I wonder if I will know how my sons will look as fathers, or what my grandchildren will look like. I know that the darkness and silence is inevitable, but I have an assurance that God will put all the things in my life I need.”