WHO: Kevin Turnbaugh is an inspiration. This 62-year-old industrial engineer turned Army logistician turned Christian author has learned to write new chapters of his life story since being diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a disease that left him totally blind 18 years ago. With the aide of his service dog, Harpo, a golden labrador, this ‘72 graduate of Hanover High School travels wherever he is needed to “use my blindness for people to understand” how to maneuver life’s challenges. When not traveling or doing extensive work for the New Oxford Lions Club, Turnbaugh can be found at his home computer putting the finishing touches on any one of his latest books about Christianity. As the son of a devout minister, relying on faith came naturally. However, shares his wife, Lori, there were some “really tough moments for Kevin” shortly after he lost total vision. It was in the darkest of times, however, that Kevin began to draw on the Sunday School lessons he would teach the younger children at Hanover First Assembly Church of God. Through those simple lessons, he found an outlet through writing and sharing his vision about life’s struggles and purpose and what he has learned in this new chapter of his life.
WHAT: Retinosis Pigmentosa (RP) is a sight stealer but not a life stealer. Kevin believes he was just given different “puzzle pieces” to assemble a unique picture of his life. Because of his rare disorder, he became the “guinea pig” for Johns Hopkins Medical Center Wilmer Eye Care Center, which implanted a device in his eye. Even though the device failed the research, Kevin’s implant is monitored to this day, to see how it “operates and survives in the eye” in hopes of providing insight into this genetic disorder.
Kevin has been gifted with a curiosity and a great sense of humor. He wanted to continue to help with chores as long as his vision would allow and insisted on mowing the lawn, despite the “zig-zag” pattern he created. He and Lori, a home health aide, share their New Oxford home with a menagerie comprised of two dogs and three cats. When Harpo is not working, he is “simply a pup,” shares Turnbaugh, playing with toys and running outside, but she never strays too far from the one she is called to serve. “ She is a good dog,” Kevin shares emotionally, as he pats Harpo’s belly, “yep, a good, good dog.”
Kevin and Harpo were brought together through the Leader Dogs for the Blind School in Rochester Hills, Michigan. For 25 days, Kevin learned the “A to Z’s” of being blind, “everything you could think of,” he recalls. Even laundry and vacuuming which, Lori says with a smile, “he must have missed those classes.” They both give a hearty laugh. Once Kevin proved he could maneuver successfully with a cane, he was eligible for a guide dog, each trained for specific environments, so Harpo is “country-walk trained” because of the terrain in and around the New Oxford area. One day while at the School, one of the activities was planting flowers. The instructor was explicit in her instructions, even down to the color of the dirt and stem and petals. A young girl turned to Kevin and asked “What does yellow look like?” Moved, Kevin thought for a moment and answered: “Have you ever felt the sun warm on your skin? The girl nodded. “That’s what yellow looks like; it’s a warm color.” It was in that moment that Kevin realized the privilege of having had seen colors, having that experience many do not and the importance of being able to relate such information to another person.
WOW: In addition to working with the Leader Dogs for the Blind, Kevin is most proud of his four published books and one in the works. A faithful and faith-filled man, Kevin relies heavily on his favorite verse, Psalm 119:105, which reads “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” , because he sees so many things in his life more clearly because of his blindness and wants to share those realizations with others. “I had no intention of writing, but one day I went into my office, sat down, and it just happened,” he recalls. He is able to write his books with the aid of JAWS technology, a computer software program that ‘speaks’ the words and letters he types. In fact, every move he makes on the computer is audible. Raised dots on certain keys on the keyboard give him a “home bank” from which to maneuver all other letters and numbers.
When Kevin first lost his vision, the doctors at Johns Hopkins gave him some advice: get patience and learn to wait. It seems this trailblazer has other ideas. “I have goals,” he states definitively. Sounds like a great title for a book.”