Vision loss doesn’t stop DLA associate from achieving dreams

By Kristin Molinaro DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

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The last five years have been kind to Gregory Ramsey. The contracting specialist met and married his wife, embarked on a new career at Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime and became a father. In an interview for National Disability Employment Awareness Month, he described this time in his life as a whirlwind and how he’s able to “see” better than ever despite being legally blind.  

Ramsey is stepfather to Maddison, 13, Seth, 12 and Emma, 9, with wife Jessica, and welcomed daughter Ariella to the family in 2018. On Tuesday, he was promoted to contract specialist for Land and Maritime’s Strategic Acquisition Programs Directorate. As responsibilities mount, Ramsey is content.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for what has happened in the last few years and DLA has been a massive part of that,” he said.

To understand the importance of this moment, one has to understand Ramsey’s journey getting there.

The eastern Ohio native and proud Buckeye grew up in the small town of Richmond, Ohio outside of Steubenville. The youngest of Jim and Jan Ramsey’s three children, Ramsey described his upbringing as “extremely normal” with all the experiences of a typical teenager. He played sports, spent time with friends and made plans for a future law career. Ramsey was enrolled as a sophomore at The Ohio State University when his conventional life abruptly came to an end.

The 19-year-old woke up one morning in December 2006 unable to see clearly out of his left eye. As a young, healthy athlete, Ramsey at first believed his symptoms were temporary. He went to the doctor, and while his family was concerned Ramsey remained optimistic he would regain his vision.

But as his central vision worsened and began to spread to the other eye, his ophthalmologist recommended genetic testing after other tests didn’t provide answers. Weeks after his symptoms began, Ramsey finally learned the devastating news that not only was his vision loss permanent, it had resulted from a previously undetected inherited trait. He was diagnosed with Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy. Ramsey is the first and only person in his immediate family diagnosed with the condition.  

LHON impacts central vision needed for reading, driving and recognizing faces among other things. In most cases, symptoms begin in one eye, followed by vision failure in the other eye. This was the case for Ramsey. No one knows what triggers the gene. It’s carried on mitochondrial DNA, meaning mothers carry the gene to their offspring. A father with the genetic mutation can’t transmit the gene to any of his children. The condition doesn’t affect peripheral vision, so while legally blind, Ramsey said he can sometimes use his peripheral vision to identify objects, and he can walk around really well despite his vision. He described it as the opposite of tunnel vision – he can’t look directly at an object but if it’s large or close enough he can use his peripheral vision to see it.

This was small consolation for Ramsey. He refers to the years immediately after his diagnosis as “the dark period.”

“Things were rough for many years – we were all in shock. My mother especially. There’s really no good answer sometimes. Time just needs to go by. Eventually I got through it and adjusted,” he said.

The college student took a semester off before returning and completing his bachelor’s degree in June 2010 with the support of the campus disability services office. No longer able to drive, he was dependent on various friends, family and support services for transportation. Prior to his diagnosis Ramsey had originally intended to go to law school but put that dream on hold as he grappled with the change in his circumstances. Several years went by as Ramsey struggled with depression.

Ramsey said his turning point was about five years ago.

“I made the decision to get my mind right – be positive, be resilient, believe in myself and refuse to quit,” he said. “I got in the best shape of my life, got my spirituality back and I couldn’t be more grateful for what has happened over the last few years.”

Ramsey took a customer service job at the Cleveland Sight Center, and then an opportunity opened up through the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired to work as a contract closeout specialist on the Defense Supply Center Columbus. Once the contract ended, he along with two teammates were brought on as federal workers with the Defense Logistics Agency. For the last two years, he worked as a purchasing agent with Maritime Supplier Operations’ Post-Award Team before his recent promotion.

As his professional life flourished, so too did Ramsey’s personal life. He married Jessica, a former grade-school classmate he reconnected with, and together they are raising four children. Jessica embarked on her DLA career this month as a purchasing agent in Land Supplier Operations’ new industrial hardware mission.

Ramsey has also undertaken various volunteer opportunities. He serves as the chair of DLA Land and Maritime’s People with Disabilities Employment Program and recently took on a new role within his local AGOISSI Toastmasters Club at DLA Land and Maritime as the Vice President of Education. In April, Ramsey placed second in the Toastmasters International speech contest for his division, using his life story as inspiration in hopes it can motivate others to battle through life’s challenges and see the good.

In the worst moments after his diagnosis Ramsey said it was difficult to picture living a normal life. But fast-forward to today, and he’s met so many goals it’s time to set new ones.

Ramsey sums up his last 14 years with one final simple message:

“Bad things are going to happen. Life can change in a second. It’s really your outlook and attitude that will get you through it.”