By Corbin Smith
As a society, we are captivated by people who don’t let physical limitations control and define their lives. We love hearing about those who don’t accept “you can’t do that” as a valid excuse. Influential figures like President Roosevelt and Stephen Hawking were confined to a wheelchair during their public lives, but did that ever stop them? Never. One of the coolest parts about being a nurse is that you are always surrounded by amazing people that have their own tough yet inspiring circumstances. New BYU College of Nursing faculty member, assistant professor Dr. Corinna Tanner, has dedicated her life to serving this demographic, a group that is especially close to her heart.
As a young girl, Tanner lived a relatively normal life. She went to school and played with her friends, just as any young girl would do. She lived with a small vision impairment, but when she was 14 years old, that impairment began to affect her a lot more. “We had to go to the medical specialists and figure out what it was. It wasn’t that I just needed glasses, I had another type of an eye problem,” Tanner remembers.
As it turns out, Tanner was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a genetic disease that causes progressive damage to the macula, the area of the eye that is responsible for straight-ahead vision. This means that those with Stargardt disease can only see out of their peripheral vision.
Tanner is the first to admit that growing up wasn’t easy. “I had to put a lot of energy into the things I did,” she says, “I wasn’t able to do reading and math and other school subjects the way that other kids did, so I just had to work harder.”
Even with her eyesight worsening as time went on, Tanner was able to find her niche. She learned how to play the violin purely by ear and also pursued dance. In fact, when Tanner came to BYU as an undergraduate student, her original major was dance!
It wasn’t until later that Tanner found nursing. Years later she became a single mother who needed to provide for 3 kids. In that circumstance, she looked into what a possible nursing career could bring. “I thought there would be so many opportunities in nursing, because I could see nurses doing things that I could imagine myself doing, in spite of my vision impairment,” she says, “What I didn’t expect was that I would be able to develop a specialty helping the blind, and I could use my own life experience to help others.”
By taking 24 credits a semester, Tanner was able to complete two bachelor degrees and a master’s degree in 5 years! One was a Bachelor of Science in Health Science from Metropolitan State University and the other was a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Colorado, while adding a Masters in Nursing from the same university. She then went on to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Utah.
Getting her degrees was not easy, especially with 3 kids at home and vision impairment, but she never let any of it stop her. At school, she used special instruments that allowed her to do the same things her classmates were doing. Meanwhile at home, she dedicated the weekends to her family so she could support her children however she could, and she continues that to this day!
With her university training and expertise, Tanner has worked constantly to help those who suffer from vision loss. Prior to coming to BYU as a professor, she worked as a health educator at the John A. Moran Eye Center and the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. She still teaches a vision loss orientation seminar there and offers those who are new to blindness various tricks, tips, and resources to use their remaining vision optimally.
She also takes her knowledge and skills abroad, to help visually impaired communities outside of the US live fulfilling lives. Among her many volunteer efforts, in the past, she has worked with LDS charities in Barbados, which she plans on continuing soon.
Tanner has already done so much for the blind community, but she doesn’t plan to slow down any time soon. She knows that she can bring a special perspective that can help others overcome trials in their life. She explains, “I have a great career in nursing, not, despite my blindness, like I thought, but because of my blindness.”
Tanner has since re-married and now has a little 5-year old to keep her and her husband company at home. She enjoys going to concerts, traveling with her family and keeping a small garden.