The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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One in 33,000: Overcoming the unimaginable

David Lavaggi, 42, has managed to stay on track to graduate in 2011 with a degree in psychology even after battling Type I diabetes and losing his sight at a young age. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith / Staff Photographer

Perhaps influenced by the fact that he was raised on the University of Tennessee campus in Knoxville, Tenn, David Lavaggi grew up looking through pictorials of Salvador Dali and reading scientific books in lieu of children’s stories.

Now, at 42 years old, he is a junior at CSUN studying psychology on track to graduate with honors in the spring of 2011.

But, the road to this point in Lavaggi’s life was not as smooth as his sense of style and charismatic personality that stands out in any crowd.

“I started to lose my vision when I was 28 years old. It happened within a four month period,” he said.

Lavaggi was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 10 and by 16 began experiencing seizures, all events that led up to his eventual vision loss. At 28, during a doctors visit, it was suggested he undergo laser eye surgery over a four-month period to correct blood vessels that were found growing at the back of his eyes.

After one of the laser procedures, something went wrong that caused his retinas to detach. During a time in his life when he should be celebrating, Lavaggi experienced the unthinkable.

“I asked my wife if she would marry me and on the way home, (while) driving, I saw these two black streams in the back of my eye, in both eyes, and when I woke up (the next day) I was blind,” said Lavaggi.

Lavaggi’s health problems did not end there, three years later he experienced kidney failure and was put on dialysis as he waited for a kidney and pancreatic transplant.

“It ended up taking, totally worked. I’ve been without insulin for eleven years,” he said about the transplant. “As I came out of the anesthesia my body was regulating its own blood sugar for the first time in over 25 years. I cant explain to you how normal I felt.”

Lavaggi was never one to let his health stand in the way of working hard so after having to quit Oral Roberts University at 18 due to health reasons he jumped full-time into marketing and managing rock groups. At the same time he was playing keyboard and singing in underground clubs when he was offered a contract from Universal Records, but turned down because he wanted to keep the music for the people.

After losing his vision, Lavaggi moved on to speak for multiple organizations including the Brail Institute of America, Guide Dogs of America and the Aviva center, which he is most passionate about.

The Aviva center assists at-risk youth and their families in the Los Angeles area.

“I work very well with young, emerging adolescents and young emerging adults,” he said. “It comes naturally. I just really can communicate well with them, they communicate well with me.”

When Lavaggi was a child he knew he aspired to be a doctor and in 2007 decided to go back to school for a psychology license. “I figured once I lost my vision I wasn’t going to be a doctor so what’s the next part of the body I can ‘heal’, the psyche,” he said.

Being in college with a visual impairment has posed many challenges Lavaggi, as some professors had not had a blind student before, but Lavaggi was more than happy to help them teach him.

“The thing is, I always work it out. I can work through any issue, any problem that any teacher is having in getting me tested or teaching me,” he said.

He relies on memory and osmosis to visualize when he is listening to a lecture and although he appreciates the help of professors who try to create the same experience for him as others, he prefers to rely on his own tools.

“For me, often its best just to experience class like everyone else is experiencing it because when people are doing things visually I feel other people’s reaction to that,” said Lavaggi.

When asked if there are any organizations at CSUN that are helping him through his time in school, “The Center on Disabilities get an A plus,” he said.

Although it is apparent Lavaggi has been through great adversity he doesn’t believe it is at all different than that someone else may experience.

“Pain is all relative. If you’re a young a girl the most painful traumatic experience you’ve ever had is to have your puppy die, that’s a 10 to you,” he said.

This is one concept that is sure to help Lavaggi succeed at his goal to counsel young adults who have experienced their own adversity.

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