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Courageous youngster lives life positively, despite loss of sight

Posted on 12/06/2009 12:00am

Courageous youngster lives life positively, despite loss of sight
Blind teen enjoys swimming and indoor rock climbing

By Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun

June 10, 2009

Courage comes in different forms. There's the rush of blood to the head on a battlefield, then there's the quiet, private heroism of suffering, without complaint, some awful, personal tragedy.

Thirteen-year-old Rhianna Martin is the quintessential quiet, private heroine.

At the age of five she was diagnosed with retinal blastoma, a rare cancer, that by the age of seven -- after bouts of chemotherapy failed to halt it -- resulted in her having her eyes surgically removed.

"When I look back on the last six years I wonder how we coped," said her mom, Leone.

"Before they removed her second eye the doctor warned us to expect her to suffer depression. But she never did. All she wanted was to have us sit down and read the Bible to her.

"We said 'we don't know why God is allowing this to happen to you but we believe he is allowing it because he's going to use you in a special way.'

"And she never questioned why. She just accepted it," said her mom.

Rhianna and her family live in Campbell River.

On Tuesday she was in Vancouver for a medical appointment at Children's Hospital accompanied by her mom and dad, Rob.

On June 20 they will all be in Los Angeles where Rhianna will be competing in the National Braille Challenge sponsored by the Braille Institute of America.

An avid braille reader and an outstanding student at Southgate middle school, where her favourite subjects are sciences and socials, this will be the fourth time she's attended the challenge,

"The first time I was in Grade 3 and I didn't win anything. Then I went back in Grade 4 and won the top prize. And last year I won first place, too," said Rhianna.

But as a Grade 7 she'll be moving up a division, putting her up against some Grade 9s. Also the competition this year will include reading charts and graphs, in addition to the speed and accuracy tests using written and taped material.

Sixty competitors from among the 600 top braille readers in Canada and the United States were chosen by the sponsors to come to Los Angeles.

She's seated with her parents on a bench outside the hospital and those long slender fingers that have made her so adept at braille were lightly flitting across the wooden surface of the bench unconsciously registering its texture.

Asked what she likes to do best, Rhianna says reading and listening to CDs supplied by a Christian organization. She plays the piano, the clarinet and the ukulele.

But she's far from being sedentary. She swims and does indoor rock climbing.

"I like to go bike riding with my dad, too. We have a tandem," she said.

When she leaves school she wants to work as a veterinarian assistant.

gbellett@vancouversun.com

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