Katie Hearn scored her dream job with professional baseball team the Atlanta Braves in 2016. Then life threw her a curveball: She started to go blind.
Hearn, who had been suffering from excruciating headaches and struggling to read words on a screen, was diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri, a rare condition where fluid surrounding the brain becomes elevated. It can mimic the signs of a brain tumor; hence, they are called pseudotumors. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the disorder is most common in women between the ages of 20 and 50.
"Most common symptoms are severe headaches, nausea, vomiting, eye pain and decreased vision," Dr. Christopher Zoumalan, a Beverly Hills-based oculoplastic surgeon, told TODAY. "It is pretty uncommon to go blind from pseudotumor cerebri."
According to Zoumalan, the disorder can be associated with increased weight gain, certain medical conditions or a side effect from medications.
First Hearn lost her peripheral vision. The former college softball player was certain that medication to reduce the intracranial pressure would do the trick. But her symptoms only worsened. In 2017, Hearn began tripping over objects and reaching for door knobs that didn't exist. That’s when she decided to take some time off from work and move in with her parents.
“The ball park was due to open April 14,” Hearn, 30, told TODAY. “So that was really tough for me to walk away from."
Hearn underwent two surgeries to reduce the pressure on her optic nerve. The procedures helped with the headaches, but her sight remained poor. She was now considered legally blind and a doctor suggested Hearn consider a new career. In response, she found a new physician.
Over the course of four months, Hearn took classes where she learned to cook, clean and navigate the world with a cane. “An instructor came with me to my office and mapped out the best route for me to enter the building," she said.
Hearn also took technology training. As the Braves’ digital and accessible services coordinator, she would need to use a computer. “I had to relearn the keyboard and how to get on the internet,” Hearn said. If you Tweet at the Atlanta Braves, Hearn is likely the one who will respond to your message.
Ask Hearn how she stayed so positive and she'll tell you she looked at the situation as an opportunity. “Losing my sight was a chance to learn something new,” she told TODAY. When Hearn feels discouraged, she recites a quote by self-help author Dr. Wayne Dyer. “He said, ‘The only limits you have, are the limits you believe,’” she explained. “Those words mean a lot to me."
In January, Hearn moved into her own apartment with a guide dog named Jack and returned to her desk at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. Her place is just a four minute walk from work. “I fought as hard as I could to return to the Braves,” she said.
Though Hearn can no longer drive a car or curl her own hair, you won't hear her complain.
"It’s all about your perspective,” Hearn stressed. "For me, I just continue living. I’m hopeful about life still being beautiful. Celebrate the life you’ve been given, even if it’s different from the life you thought you’d have.”