She won a jump rope contest in first grade. She’s addicted to HBO and Showtime. She has a fear of birds, and she was diagnosed with an optic neuropathy.
But this junior from Binghamton, New York and US Airforce airman veteran hasn’t let the loss of vision from one eye take command of her life.
“I am quite used to it so it doesn’t affect me much, but the diagnosis meant I could no longer handle a weapon so I was not really fit for military service any longer,” Natalie Woodhurst said. She was medically retired from active duty after two years of service.
“My right eye had a blurry spot. I thought there was something in it, but after a few days I asked my boss, who was a good friend, and he sent me straight to the optometrist,” she said.
Her diagnosis wasn’t easy, not just because she would not have the chance of being deployed, but because it was a long, strenuous journey to know what was wrong. The optometrist recommended she go to a specialist, an ophthalmologist, who found optic nerve damage and sent her to a neurologist. Woodhurst then had many tests done by the head of neuroophthalmology at the University of Colorado such as blood tests and genetic testing that were even sent to the Mayo Clinic and Georgetown University. She says this whole process lasted about three months and in that time frame, this little blurry spot grew to cover her whole eye except for a pinhole sized spot.
“I can still see some light, but that’s it,” she said. Instead, Woodhurst said she’s glad about the opportunities this condition has brought her. Being medically retired means that she not only gets to have an education because of the G.I. Bill, which every veteran receives, but it also means she gets paid a small pension and will have insurance for the rest of her life.
“I was fortunate this happened while I was in active duty because I received some of the best care possible which never would have been possible as a civilian,” she said. Her major in biology with minors in chemistry and environmental studies are a reflection of what she learned about herself during her years of service.
“Looking at the big picture of medicine and science, I concluded that medical doctors treat diseases but scientists cure them,” Woodhurst said.
She hopes to attend graduate school and study biochemistry, biotechnology, or genetics because she wants to be a part of a team that makes a difference.
Her Air Force Specialty Code job title was mental health tech. Her job was to run and assist with physical and mental disabilities group therapy sessions, awareness seminars, and programs such as suicide prevention and the alcohol and drug abuse prevention treatment program.
“I was older than most new airman at 24 so I think more was expected of me and I did well,” she said.
Woodhurst says this was a great learning experience that gave her the opportunity to win many awards, and she was even put in charge of programs that were originally managed by a Master Sergeant.
“They had a lot of confidence in me and I was definitely up for the challenge,” she said.
“You learn more about yourself when you work in an atmosphere that emphasizes service before self and integrity first as absolutes,” she said.
Although Woodhurst says her biggest regret was not having the opportunity of deployment, she still holds her dreams for the future close to her heart.
“I would love to write a humorous book and devise the first synthetic stem cell.”