Posted on: February 18, 2022 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Photo by Glenn Carpenter, Edited by Sarah Schudt

By Nick Stulga, News Editor

It was a normal day for 28-year-old Steven Stewart. He was working diligently as a forklift operator in an icy cold storage warehouse in Illinois. As the hours passed, he developed a deep ulcer in the bottom of his foot. He didn’t realize he had an infection that would change the course of his life.

It turned out he had sepsis, an inflammation of the body that comes from fighting an infection, which can cause damage to multiple organ systems, leading to organ failure and even death. 

“I did not think that the inflammation was from infection, and thought that it was just healing, until one night after struggling with a very high fever for a day,” Stewart said. “I was very weak, and my body was shutting down, so I had to go to the emergency room, where I was slowly losing consciousness.”

The sepsis resulted in a retinal tractional detachment, where scar tissue on the retina pulls the retina away from the back of the eye. Stewart then underwent multiple surgeries to treat his condition in an attempt to save his vision.

In November 2016, surgeons attempted to repair the detachment, but the retina detached itself shortly after the procedure, leaving Stewart blind in his right eye. The next year, he underwent surgery in an attempt to repair his left retina, and ultimately, it was successful. In March 2018, Stewart underwent preventative surgery for future complications.

“This surgery would result in them making the decision to remove a quarter of my retina and leaving the rest of it covered in scar tissue that is too thick to see through,” Stewart said. “I would eventually end up going in for surgery again at a later time for them to try and remove some of the scar tissue, but they decided against it while I was on the operating table because they did not want to risk fully detaching my retina.”

Unfortunately, what was meant to help repair his vision led to complete darkness. 

It was the darkest point in my life, literally and figuratively.”

Steven Stewart, Scholarship Recipient

“It was the darkest point of my life, literally and figuratively,” Stewart said. “Depression had come over me during the grieving process with thoughts of having to face the reality that I would never be able to do anything for myself again. I was not educated on the accessibility and capabilities that were out there for those that are totally blind.”

Stewart spent seven months in the dark before admitting himself into an inpatient ward for treatment. He says it was at this point he began to push through the pain and build up the strength to regather his identity.

“It wasn’t until starting to explore my self-independence that I started to really get over that bump or out of the dark hole, I guess you can say,” Stewart said. “My resilience started to show, and I started going forward with the mentality that I can’t make excuses for myself and that I was in charge of what I was going to do with my life.” 

Shortly after working his way out of that depressive state, he ended up working with a non-profit organization in Chicago called Second Sense, where he learned how to manage his newfound blindness. He began to ponder a future career.

“It was between becoming a counselor or a therapist, and also looking at massage therapy,” Stewart said. “I was late getting to sign up that semester, and then by the next school year when I was ready to start exploring, that is when COVID happened and put a damper on it for about a year.”

In the spring of 2021, now 32, Stewart chose Moraine Valley as a means of exploring his opportunities. The first class he took on was Intro to Massage. During his fall semester, he took a few more courses, including Basic Swedish Massage, Anatomy and Physiology, and Business and Ethics.

“The anatomy class is very visual, so it was very hard with all of the other classes that I was in,” Stewart said. “A lot of time and hard work definitely paid off and allowed me to do very well in that class alongside with how great the biology department was! I seriously can’t speak highly enough of all the staff and the experiences that I have had with the school.”

I seriously can’t speak highly enough of all the staff and the experiences I have had with the school.”

Steven Stewart, Scholarship Recipient

Last summer, Stewart ended up winning one of Moraine’s many scholarships, the Anne Reagan scholarship, to help fund his courses. The scholarship is worth $4,000 and goes to a student 24 years old or older with an education gap of at least five years. 

To receive a scholarship, students are required to write an essay detailing why they think they deserve to win one.

Stewart wrote about growing up in Oak Lawn and how he was proud to be going to the school right down the street. He also didn’t fail to mention all of the struggles he’d endured over the years with his vision loss just being one. 

“Knowing that the opportunity to further my life and pursue education and my career in a way that would allow me to help others was something that was very important to me,” Stewart said. “It’s not easy having life as you know it ripped away from you, and having to start all over again, and the opportunity for a scholarship would make that journey to help others a lot more obtainable.” 

More than 200 scholarships available through MV Foundation

Moraine Valley Foundation Scholarships are currently open and available for application. The application window opened on Feb. 1 and will remain open through the end of March.

With one application, students will be applying for all available scholarships with awards ranging from $250 to $5,000. Students must apply each year but this round of scholarships will be awarded in May 2022 for help covering the cost of future enrollment during the fall of 2022 and the spring of 2023.

Scholarships are offered to full or part-time students based on a combination of criteria requested by the scholarship donors. Most require a 2.5 or higher GPA and financial need.

Students interested in applying for scholarships may do so online. For help with questions, contact the Foundation office at foundation@morainevalley.edu or (708) 974-5740.