DYKER HEIGHTS — Blind health care consultant Zak Turner mesmerized students at Dyker Heights I.S. 201 on Thursday, Dec. 12 when he shared his experiences of overcoming the limitation of blindness and living a productive and successful life during a special assembly at the school.
Turner had been invited by I.S. 201’s Social Emotional Awareness Leadership (SEAL) team to talk on the subject, “How I Got My Vision.”
Turner, the husband of I.S. 201 seventh grade math teacher Alison Nunziata, delivered an empowering talk to students. Turner’s remarkable story served as a lesson for students to know they could overcome life’s challenges and persevere.
Turner started losing his vision at 25 and was diagnosed a year later with Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, a rare disease that affects every two in 100,000 people, damaging the optic nerve and impairing their vision. “My lens is working fine, but my film is broken,” Turner explained to the students. “I lost my eyesight, but I gained my vision.”
Turner’s message to the students was, “Never let one situation define your life or who you are.”
During the past six years, Turner has lost his ability to jog, drive a car and even dress himself with clothes that matched. “I would make a mess if I put toothpaste on a toothbrush and had difficulty with little things, like cooking and grocery shopping,” he said. “I had difficulty crossing the street and had to ask for help because I was visually impaired.”
Turner explained his options were to feel sorry for himself and question, “Why did this happen to me?” or “use the disability as an opportunity to break away and help other people and achieve goals that I never thought I would achieve,” he said.
“I try to talk to people about how they can continue to be successful, raise the bar and reach their goals, whatever they may be. Regardless of the disability, regardless of a bad day, you can get over that and you still have tomorrow,” he said.
The SEAL program helps students deal with problems they face on a daily basis. The SEAL team at the intermediate school, located at 8010 12th Ave., gears its programs toward sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.
SEAL teaches students emotional skills that allow them to achieve a positive personal and interpersonal success in school and in life. It also teaches them how to respect one another despite their differences and to show empathy for others.
Sixth grader Jaylyn was quite impressed with Turner’s talk. “He’s going through a lot of challenges and he’s persevered,” she told this paper. Anthony, another sixth grader, also gained a lot from listening to Turner. “Zak is so resilient, because if I was in that position I would have thought of every excuse to give up,” Anthony said.
Lihu seemed to concur with his classmates, “He is persevering through a great hardship that life threw at him and succeeding,” said Lihu.
Yet another sixth grade student named Ryan said that he gained a new outlook on life after listening to Turner. “Never, never, never give up is a quote from Zak that I am always going to remember,” he said.