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March 2011 Graduating Class

Image of the March 2011 graduating class
Madhu Balla & Patrick
Walter Cone & Sugar
Danilo Cruz & Steven
Karen Eistenstadt & Midnight
Douglas Fitzsimmons & Laredo
Cynthia Marrugo & Winsome
Enrique Mejia & G-Lee
Lucas Radaelli & Timmy
Steve Smith & Oakland
Kimberly Thurman & Sal

Home Training Graduates
Jessie Laurie & Otis

Many thanks to our instructors:
Miranda Beckmann, Class Supervisor
Graham Buck, ACTION Instructor
Jolene Hollister, Class Instructor
Lori Busse, Class Instructor
Mike Goehring, Home Training Field Representative
Hope Smith, Instructor Assistant

image of Madhu Bhalla and PatrickMadhu Bhalla and Patrick
ACTION student Madhu Bhalla lives in Maryland. She returns home with Patrick, a yellow male Labrador and her second guide dog.

Madhu grew up in India and earned her Bachelors Degree there. She came to the United States for her Masters in Physical Therapy and before retirement, worked in a rehab hospital specializing with brain injuries and comprehensive rehabilitation patients. Today, she enjoys retirement and continues to work with seniors as a Licensed Message Therapist.

Madhu’s dad and brother live in America and she has many nieces and nephews. She is very active with her church and finds it a happy coincidence that her guide dogs have spiritual names; Savior was her first dog, and now Patrick.  Madhu loves to take long morning walks and enjoys yoga and meditation.

Madhu lost her sight due to glaucoma. When she met Patrick, Madhu felt a sense of gratitude; she once again has her partner, her companion. Her major priority is taking care of Patrick. She gives him massages and he gets very relaxed and very calm.

image of Walter Cone and SugarWalter Cone and Sugar
Walter Cone returns to Guiding Eyes from Michigan. He is paired with Sugar, a yellow female Lab.

Walter was born prematurely with partial sight and glaucoma.  By age 10 he was totally blind and learned Braille.  Walter earned his degree in communications and has since taken computer programming courses.

Walter now works as from home as a programmer.  He loves all kinds of music – from opera to country music and everything in between.

Sugar is Walter’s eighth guide dog. “The Guiding Eyes instructors here have been superior. They insure you feel good about yourself which in turn makes you feel good working with your dog.”

Walter fell in love with Sugar immediately. Sugar loves ‘tug of war’ and wants to play after eating, before going for her walk. Walter is looking forward to bonding with Sugar. “You receive unconditional love from your dogs and learn from them.”

image of Danilo Cruz and StevenDanilo Cruz and Steven
Danilo Cruz is originally from the Philippines, but now lives in Illinois. He comes to Guiding Eyes for his first guide dog and has been matched with Steven, a yellow male Lab.

Retinal detachment caused his sight impairment in grade school. It happened during basketball playoffs and unfortunately, the doctors didn’t warn him that he had weak retinas.

Danilo holds no regrets and has set many goals for himself.  He has auditioned for American Idol and plans to return.   He enjoys learning, reading and blogs, and likes to learn something new every day.

Danilo values independence and Steven is bringing that back into his life.  He looks forward to the freedom and companionship they will share.

image of Karen Eisenstadt and MidnightKaren Eisenstadt and Midnight
Karen Eisenstadt calls New York home. She is matched with Midnight, a black male Lab.  He’ll be her ninth guide dog.

Karen is now retired after a career in employment counseling.  She stays active and busy through her involvement with Visions, a rehabilitation center for the blind and visually impaired.  She teaches Braille at the Center and takes the exercise classes.

Midnight bonded faster with Karen than any previous dog.  She calls him “Super-Dog.”  He is easygoing and loves to play with tennis balls and sticks.

Doctors are unsure what caused Karen’s sight impairment. She doesn’t think about it, as she enjoys her life and the companionship and freedom her guide dog provides. Karen is looking forward to her adventures with Midnight and keeping in touch with Midnight’s puppy raisers.

image of Douglass Fitzsimmons and LaredoDouglass Fitzsimmons and Laredo
Douglass Fitzsimmons is from Pennsylvania. He returns to Guiding Eyes for Laredo, a black male Lab.
Douglass has retinopathy of prematurity – a result of being born premature and receiving too much oxygen while in the incubator. As a young man, he earned an Associates degree in computer science and began working as a programmer. He currently works as the information technology manager for the agency responsible for oversight of the behavioral health system for the county in which he resides.

He is married and has two grown sons who are married.  He grew up in Pennsylvania and has a younger sister.  His hobbies include amateur radio and playing the classical organ.

Facing increased vision loss in the 1980’s, Douglass made the decision to get a guide dog to improve the safety and efficiency of travel.  Laredo is a bit like his first dog from Guiding Eyes and their introduction was emotional and exciting.  The trust in Laredo came very quickly.  He is looking forward to strengthening the bond with Laredo and maintaining the level of independence he has enjoyed with his previous dogs.

Home Training: Jessica (Jessie) Laurie and Otis

image of Cynthia Marrugo and WinsomeCynthia Marrugo and Winsome
Cynthia Marruga lives in Texas. She will return home with Winsome, a black female Labrador.

Cynthia is a high school graduate and has taken college classes.  She works full time, and enjoys spending time with her friends and boyfriend when free.
Retinal detachment caused Cindy’s vision impairment, and Winsome will be her second guide dog.  She is playful and loves squeaky toys.

Cynthia is looking forward to getting out more, as she was uncomfortable going places without a guide dog.  Winsome will be good company and she is looking forward to introducing her to her routine and her friends.


image of Enrique Mejia and G-LeeEnrique Mejia and G-Lee
Enrique Mejia made the long trip from California for his first guide dog. He has been matched with G-Lee-P, a black female Lab.

Enrique has two brothers, four sisters, three nieces and six nephews. He was born in Mexico and moved to California 16 years ago. Enrique has a bachelor’s degree in history, and one day hopes to become a lawyer.  Currently he interns at the Braille Institute, working with assistive technology and youth services.

Enrique enjoys reading, movies, and riding roller coasters.  Spending time with family is important and there is always Sunday dinner at home. In high school, Enrique ran cross country.

Enrique was born with congenital cataracts.  A routine surgery went badly, and his retinas were destroyed.  He considered getting a dog for four years, and was thrilled to meet G-Lee.  He feels that a dog provides so much more than a cane..

“Guiding Eyes is a comfortable place to be and everyone makes you feel like you’re at home. The class has great chemistry and van rides are never boring.”

image of Lucas Radaelli and TimmyLucas Radaelli and Timmy
Lucas Radaelli is from Brazil.  He has been paired with his first guide dog Timmy, a yellow male Lab.

Lucas was born with no vision in his left eye, and lost the sight in his right eye when he was four.  His parents were incredible supportive and not overprotective; they allowed him to participate in regular activities like bike riding, skateboarding, and box cart racing.
Lucas’s father learned Braille so he could teach his son to read.  He Brailled many of his son’s school materials, and Lucas credits much of his education to the hard work of his parents.  He is currently in his third year of computer science at University, and he knows that Timmy will be a great help around campus. After graduation, Lucas and Timmy will head to Germany for further study.

Lucas has a passion for computers, programming, and blogging. He plays electric guitar and violin, and enjoys movies, Japanese cartoons and friends.

“With Timmy, I don’t feel like I am blind any more.”  In Brazil there are only 150 guide dog users in the country; Timmy will be the most famous dog in the city!

image of Steve L. Smith and OaklandSteve L.  Smith and Oakland
Steve L. Smith traveled from Washington State and is matched with Oakland, a yellow male Lab.

Steve is married with five children.  He was born with retinitis pigmentosa but it didn’t progress until recently.  He has very little vision today – like looking through stained glass windows.

Steve is a union carpenter and specialized in commercial carpentry.  His next role will be to do construction work at Lighthouse for the Blind when he returns home.

Steve is looking forward to increased mobility and getting around without second guessing himself.  He loves that his own long stride is so well-matched with Oakland.  The dog is always ready to go, which is exactly what Steve needed.


image of Kimberly Thurman and SalKimberly Thurman and Sal
Kimberly “Kim” Thurman lives in Kentucky. She came to Guiding Eyes as an ACTION Student and is matched with her third dog, Sal, a yellow male Lab.

Kim is married and has a daughter and two granddaughters. Retinitis pigmentosa caused her sight impairment, starting in her teens.

Kim worked as a medical transcriptionist for 12 years and is back in college majoring in Education.  Her guide dogs are a big hit in school, and always help break the ice when meeting other students.  “The college campus is a perfect place to work a dog.  There’s a quick jaunt between classes then an hour nap!”

Sal’s work has astounded her so much; he is very conscientious.  She can’t wait to take him to an area she is familiar with. He is her biggest dog so far at 78 pounds.

Kim is an avid reader and an internet junky.  Skype made the Guiding Eyes experience even better, as Kim was able to introduce Sal to her husband on the very first day she had him.  “The process is here is amazing. It never gets old, the amazement never decreases, it’s always better.”