The 35-year-old Union Grove resident was diagnosed with a degenerative retinal disease in 2010, and even though doctors expected she had 15 years of eyesight remaining, she describes her vision currently as what one might see looking through a hole in a child-sized shoebox.
Nevertheless, Gomez is graduating with an associate of applied science degree in information technology from Gateway with a 3.95 GPA, and will continue her studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the fall.
“Over the past three years, it’s been all about adapting,” she said in a phone interview Monday. “It’s not critical; it’s not taking years off of my life.”
She is one of more than 700 Gateway students expected to graduate either in spring or summer who were recognized at a commencement ceremony at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside’s Sports and Activity Center, 900 Wood Road in Somers, on Tuesday night, according to a press release from Gateway.
Gomez had intended to start school in 2008 and had registered for classes at Cardinal Stritch University, but when her then 4-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she canceled those plans to be her daughter’s caregiver.
She explained that her daughter requires constant monitoring because she was diagnosed at such a young age that she does not recognize the signs in her body to treat herself.
Although Gomez was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease two years later, doctors anticipated the disease would take 15 years before she would notice a loss in her vision — ample time to plan for her own livelihood and her daughter to become self-sufficient in treating herself.
That changed as her eyesight failed much more quickly than anticipated. She lost her driver’s license in June 2012 and was deemed legally blind in July 2012, barely two years after the initial diagnosis.
Gomez explained that school became even more urgent to set an example for her daughter, noting that diabetes can lead to blindness.
“I just said, ‘I need to do this for my daughter,’ ” she explained. “Why don’t I choose to be a role model for her?”
Gomez started classes at Gateway’s Racine campus soon after losing her driver’s license, in spite of snickers from passers-by when she was dropped off at school in a bus.
“All the time she’s been in school, she’s worked around it, didn’t bring attention to it,” said instructor Jill Fall. “I’m just thrilled she’s going back to school … nothing stops her.”
Gomez gained confidence as she consistently earned high grades and joined organizations at school, like as an officer in the Association of Information Technology Professionals.
“Seeing those A’s and making the dean’s list … that’s what fueled me to do better because that was the only thing I could control,” she said. “I earned those; I made those happen. I could put in the hard work and see the results. That was my victory.”
Already registered at UW-M, Gomez will start classes toward a four-year degree in information technology in the fall with the end goal of getting her master’s degree and returning to Gateway as an instructor.