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Tom Shambeau, of Waupaca, enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh with the desire to learn more about what it takes to run the family business, but his educational path wasn’t linear when he was faced with a medical condition that affected his sight.

“Coming into UWO I had a good idea that I wanted to continue building on the foundation of business courses I had taken in high school. My father has been in sales my entire life, and I think that interest also rubbed off on me. I love working with people and look forward to a future career in sales,” he said.

However, in March 2017 during the second semester of his junior year, Shambeau developed a blurry spot in his right eye. At first, multiple ophthalmologists diagnosed Shambeau with a swollen optic nerve and said it was caused by a virus and should clear up. Several weeks later his left eye started to develop similar symptoms.

In searching for answers, doctors ran Shambeau through a series of tests, including an MRI, spinal tap and genetic testing at Mayo Clinic, until they discovered his official diagnosis–Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), which is the degeneration of retinal cells that predominately affects young males and leads to a sudden loss of central vision.

To deal with his new condition, Shambeau took a semester off of school to adapt and  relearn skills.

“My diagnosis finally gave us the answer to what the problem was … but I needed to figure out how to navigate my new sight. My doctors connected me with Vision Forward out of Milwaukee, which empowered me as I relearned tasks and found my new normal,” Shambeau explained.

When Shambeau expressed interest in returning to UWO, he connected with Associate Dean of Students Kiersten Karlsen in UW Oshkosh’s Accessibility Center.

“Our purpose is to provide access where it may not exist for students with varying abilities and ensure that all students have the best educational experience possible to succeed not just in college but in life,”  Karlsen said.

Karlsen and her team worked diligently to connect Shambeau with campus resources, secure adaptive technology and develop a plan to help him and his professors move forward with current coursework and a clear path toward completing his degree.

“When Tom first came to see me, he was of course rattled by what had happened to him and was  faced with many unknowns. What made him successful was his determination to finish his degree and be fully independent on his journey,” she said.

Shambeau said without the support of the Accessibility Center his time at UW Oshkosh might have ended differently.

Accessibility Center helps Tom Shambeau, a Marketing BBA from Waupaca, find the tools he needed when he had a sight problem. Monday, April 8, 2019.

“The Accessibility Center had a large impact on my life. Without them, I may not have come back to finish my semester of coursework. I have nothing but outstanding praise for the individuals in the office and I am very grateful for their help,” he said.

Shambeau said others on campus also were supportive of him and his studies as he navigated the challenges of his vision loss, which he credits with sparking stronger relationships with his professors and peers.

“Turns out I am the same person, just with less than perfect vision. This experience allowed me to create better relationships with those around me and I have appreciated the accommodations (extra time on exams, personal magnification devices in class on exams, electronic textbooks as well as large print materials) that made my graduation in December possible,” said Shambeau.

This summer, Shambeau will intern with KI’s inside sales department in Green Bay. He looks forward to December when he will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in sales.

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