San Diego, CA – Randyce Wechter, the latest nominee of the “No Limits” Mentoring Mission Award – a charitable outreach program dedicated to helping disabled people to achieve their career goals – embodies the true spirit of somebody who has steadfastly refused to give up.
After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at eight years old, her mother died suddenly. She found herself learning to walk again at La Rabida Children’s Hospital, without a mom and having to wear a cumbersome brace. To make matters worse, Randyce was warned by doctors that she could no longer play like a normal kid. Of course, she had other ideas.
“So my father moved me down to Florida from Chicago to live with relatives, because of the warmer weather,” she says. “He set up pool time at a local Miami Beach hotel because we were told that swimming would be instrumental in getting stronger and active again.” The regimen worked. In fact, she ultimately became a standout student athlete in a number of high school sports, including volleyball, a sport she competed in at the prestigious Maccabiah Games in Israel.
At 21, Randyce married and went on to attend DePaul University. After a successful career in retail management, she settled into her passion: the theater. She eventually became a Unit Production Manager for a leading women’s documentary film company. She had planned to continue in the same field when the couple moved to California, but fate intervened with the “sunshine of her life” – a new baby boy named Matthew.
She relished being a stay-at-home mom, calling those years the best of her life. She also became actively involved in philanthropic work, helping organize multiple fundraisers for the schools her son attended.
By the time Matthew was in seventh grade, she decided it was time to go back to work. “My husband, Michael, noticed that a local Palm Springs bakery was up for sale. It sounded like a lot of fun, even though I’d never baked a thing in my life. Actually, my husband was the cook in the family,” she laughs. “Luckily, I felt I had enough organizational expertise and support from my family to make this unlikely venture a success.”
Under her enthusiastic leadership and marketing skills, the business flourished. “My husband, though very busy running his own computer business, helped out in any way that he could… and so did my son. It was a blast! You can imagine how popular my son was with a parent known as ‘PS Cookie Mama.’”
At 45, just as life couldn’t get much better, something unimaginable occurred. “I started losing my vision. I was diagnosed with ‘overlapping autoimmune disease,’ which is a fancy way of saying they didn’t know what was causing my optic nerve to begin dying in one eye.”
Her son, a high school senior at the time, took over the day-to-day operations of the bakery as Randyce sought multiple medical opinions. “He did a great job keeping the business going, but as my sight continued to deteriorate over the months ahead, it was obvious I would have to sell my business. It was a difficult decision after pouring so much work and love into my four bakeries, but since I was selling them to a former employee, who I also mentored in the business, it was an easier transition for me.”
The family relocated to Laguna Niguel in Orange County, California, so she could receive regular chemotherapy treatments over a grueling four-year stretch at UCI Medical Center, in a desperate effort to stave off any other serious illnesses. “Unfortunately, I lost my vision completely over a couple of months and the treatments continued in hopes of keeping the disease from spreading to other vital organs.”
About the same time, Randyce started writing a book called “Blind Spot”, which chronicled her life and journey into blindness, hundreds of doctor’s appointments, countless chemo treatments, wonderful doctors and the amazing support she received from her family. “I was going to the Braille Institute and trying to do my best to adjust to life as a sightless person, but it was very difficult to grasp that this was really happening to me….I felt I had too much left to do and I wanted to survive the treatments. I felt like I would somehow see again.”