Meet Class #283

Class 283 poses on a side walk with their guide dogs.

Pictured left to right: Terri Tidwell and guide Finnegan, trainer Megan Nystrom, Talibah Adisa and guide Celia, Joe Brogdon and guide Emmy Lee, trainer Karin Watson, Catherine Kennedy and guide K.K., Justin Elliott and guide Mopsy, trainer Cheryl Herman, Lois Liptak and guide Bealla, Bart Butler and guide Elwood, trainer Marisa Blanco, Larry Beagle and guide Jammer

Congratulations Class #283!

Let’s hear it for Class #283! This invincible group of graduates shows us what their hard work, courage, and positive attitudes achieved. These spirited guide dog teams are confidently headed into their futures and we are cheering them every step of the way. Welcome to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family, Class #283.

Meet the class!

Retinitis pigmentosa might be robbing Terri Tidwell’s vision, but it hasn’t stopped her from doing things she enjoys. This active volunteer serves at a Christian food pantry, attends a weekly Bible study, walks miles around the mall, and she and her husband hike trails in search of waterfalls. When vision loss meant nearly falling in a hole to avoid a car, which caused a torn meniscus that required surgery, Terri knew that she needed help. Like many people with low vision, she thought she wasn’t “blind enough” for a guide dog until one of our alumni encouraged her to apply. Now she’s been matched with a fun yellow Lab named Finnegan, her second guide dog from our school, and she’s ready for the freedom, safety, and love that he brings.

Almost exactly 20 years ago, Talibah Adisa took a guide dog harness in hand, determined to remain independent despite her sudden vision loss. While undergoing surgery to remove a pituitary tumor, her carotid artery was accidentally severed. Once she was back on her feet, Talibah never stopped pushing forward toward freedom. She’s had three guide dogs and her third recently retired. Now she has Celia, a sweetheart of a black Labrador, as her co-adventurer and guide dog.

Joe Brogdon loves the Georgia woods where he was raised, living just half a mile from where he was born. At nine, he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive disease that slowly robbed his vision. In 2004, Joe turned to Southeastern Guide Dogs for his first guide, Charlie, followed by Linny and then Keegan, who recently retired. Now Joe’s been matched with Emmy Lee, a cute yellow Lab with a fun personality. Joe sums up his Southeastern Guide Dogs experience this way: “All I can say is that if anybody needs a dog, they need to come here. They treat you good here—just like you’re at home.”

Fluent in American Sign Language, Catherine Kennedy spent her career interpreting for students living with hearing loss. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Catherine’s immune system began attacking her retinas, causing her to lose most of her vision. She had to stop sign language interpreting and had to learn to navigate with a cane. Catherine typically walks a lot faster than her cane allows, and now with her new guide dog, K.K., a sweet yellow Labrador, she’s on the move again. “The confidence I have with K.K. makes me glad I let go of my cane,” she says. “I don’t have to worry anymore.”

Justin Elliott worked in the disaster restoration industry since graduating from high school, helping people recover from fire, flood, and mold destruction. “I saw people during some of the worst moments of their lives,” Justin says. He had no idea that his own life would also radically change. In 2013, Justin was driving home in rush-hour traffic when he was randomly shot in the head by another driver. He spent two months in the hospital while surgeons performed brain surgery and significant facial reconstruction. Justin came to Southeastern Guide Dogs for a guide dog and he’s been matched with an easygoing black Goldador named Mopsy. Now, he looks forward to leaving his cane behind to embrace this new season in his life.

In 2018, Lois Liptak’s macular degeneration progressed to the point where she lost all of her vision. As her vision worsened, Lois left her career as a registered nurse and became a licensed medical massage therapist. She now owns her massage practice and is happy to keep working. When she began losing bits and pieces of her independence, Lois looked into getting a guide dog. Now she’s discovering that her new guide dog, Bealla, a playful, patient yellow Labrador, does a lot more than her cane ever could. “I can’t tell you how much Bealla means to me,” she says. “And she’s certainly more fun than a cane.”

Bart Butler was 47 and a busy husband, father, and fireman when he lost his vision to diabetic retinopathy. Shortly after, he endured a pancreas and kidney transplant. After regaining his health, Bart was determined to be self-sufficient again. He graduated with his first guide, Teddy, in 2011. When Teddy retired, Bart returned for his second guide, Elwood, a smart and active black Lab who works well and loves playing with his Nylabone when the harness comes off. Bart hopes to give back by participating in our Walkathon, and Elwood makes a perfect walking buddy!

After being diagnosed in 2004 with Stargardt macular degeneration, a genetic eye disorder that causes progressive vision loss, electrical engineer Larry Beagle kept working. He enjoyed his career and traveled the globe supervising high voltage equipment installations. Larry and his wife moved from Atlanta, Georgia, to St. Johns County, Florida, where Larry retired. Now with his new guide dog, Jammer, an active, happy yellow Labrador, Larry can explore his community and enjoy his independence and freedom.

Class #283, we congratulate each of you on all of your hard work and welcome you to the Southeastern Guide Dogs family!

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Did you miss our live stream of today’s graduation? Don’t worry! You can still view it here. Congratulations Class #283 on your hard work and we can’t wait to see your progress.

Posted on October 10, 2019 | Category: Blog, Graduates