Mulmore overcomes blindness to complete Dietetic Internship Program

PETER SILAS PASQUA ppasqua@postsouth.com
Derron “Boomer” Mulmore, of Plaquemine, recently completed the Dietetic Internship Program at Southern University. Mulmore returned to school after overcoming Guillain - Barré syndrome that caused him to lose his sight in 2000 and graduated from Southern in Food and Nutrition in 2011. 
COUTESY PHOTO

PLAQUEMINE – When Derron "Boomer" Mulmore tripped and fell over a decade ago while going to work one morning at 4 a.m., he initially brushed it off, rationalizing the lack of light at that time of the day as the cause.

Life was going pretty good for the instrument tech that graduated from Plaquemine Senior High School in 1984 and played football under coach Don Jones.

Then within a matter of months it all came crashing down and the man that completed an electrical apprenticeship at ITI found himself in the dark.

"I jumped right back up but I fell again the next week," Mulmore said.

Mulmore began seeing specialists at several hospitals but no one could diagnose him. A diabetic at the time, he began to worry about his weakest organs - the eyes, kidneys and pancreas.

"If I turned my head one way, I could see blood running across my eyes," Mulmore said. "If you would look at me, you couldn't see the blood but I could see it from the inside. And I could just see the blood run down."

A couple of days later, he was informed that he had a rare syndrome called Guillain - Barré. Sometimes called Landry's paralysis, Guillain–Barré is a disorder affecting the peripheral nervous system. Ascending paralysis, weakness beginning in the feet and hands and migrating towards the trunk, is the most typical symptom.

Guillain - Barré syndrome is rare, with 1-2 cases per 100,000 people annually, but is the most common cause of acute non-trauma-related paralysis.

Medication for Mulmore was hard to find and when it was, worries about contamination arose. He began plasapheresis but with his eyesight continuing to worsen, Mulmore had to come to a decision - remain at Earl K. Long Hospital in Baton Rouge where he was being treated for Guillain - Barré or go to the LSU Eye Center in New Orleans to treat his eyes.

"I had a choice to make," Mulmore said. "They gave me 30 minutes to decide what I wanted to do so I made it simple. I could see and not walk or I could walk and not be able to see. I choose to walk."

The patient continued to undergo daily plasmapheresis for nearly two weeks and was eventually cleared of the syndrome.

"That is when my sight starting getting real bad and then it kind of all went dark," Mulmore said. "It took a long time before I could just walk by myself. I was very weak and had no strength. I just had to start over.

"It was tough at first but I knew other people had been through worse and the good Lord doesn't give you more than you can handle. I had my moments but I never really shared them with a lot of people. There was no reason for me to complain. This is just what I had to go through."

Mulmore struggled with the completion of daily tasks that are often taken for granted. Intense body pain, loss of balance, frequent hospitalization, and an uncertain future severely taxed his spirit, mind, and body. Several years later after most of his physical pain had subsided he decided he could not spend the rest of his life dormant and secluded.

"I just took it one step at a time," Mulmore said. "As I got stronger, my health got better and I decided that I had to learn to do something else. I couldn't do the things that I had done in the past without my sight."

Mulmore attended the Affiliated Blind Learning School in Lafayette where they teach visually impaired to live by themselves.

"Once you learn how to use your cane, you had to cross University Avenue everyday by yourself," Mulmore said.

He then enrolled at Baton Rouge Community College in the spring of 2007 and upon completion of 28 hours, transferred to Southern University in the fall of 2008 majoring in Food and Nutrition, a passion of his from the onset of his illness.

"My first semester rewarded as much as challenged me," Mulmore said. "I fell in love with nutrition and learning new things. I took a lot of courses that people didn't think I was going to pass.

"It was not easy, but anything that is worth achieving is often difficult. I was often told that it took a lot of courage to attend college visually impaired, but I honestly did not feel that way. I felt constantly uplifted and did well."

Mulmore arrived to class early so he could sit in the front and record everything the instructor would say to study for tests that were taken through disability services on campus.

He had a mobility instructor that would teach him how to maneuver around campus by practicing on the weekends and walking from building to building.

"My cane tells me if the sidewalk is rough or if I am going up or down," Mulmore said. "My cane will tell me that because it has a little metal tip. As long as a I am tapping, I am OK. If the sound changes that means I have gone in a different direction or the surface has changed."

And his mother, Mildred Mulmore, drove him to class everyday, even if that meant night classes.

"She is my driver," Mulmore said. "She sacrificed a lot and would schedule appointments around my schedule. Sometimes I would try to make it easier for her by sitting and waiting. We had some rough moments but it all worked out."

Mulmore earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Food and Nutrition in May 2011 and applied for the Dietetic Internship Program at Southern. Only 49 percent of the applicants are accepted, so Mulmore was determined to make the most of it and completed the program in May 2013.

Currently, according to the Louisiana Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, there is only one visually impaired Registered Dietitian in the entire United States. Mulmore plans to become the second and the first in the southern region.

But the main goal for the man who has had 34 surgeries, including kidney and pancreas replacement, is encouraging others.

"I would love to be a motivational speaker," Mulmore said. "Each time I had to bounce back and learn something new. Everything is a challenge. You have to remember where the sidewalk is all the time but once you make it a part of your life, it is not bad.

"I am not a genius but I work hard and I am very positive. A lot of people ask me how I did it but I don't think I did that much. I never had the attitude of doing a good job for a visually impaired person but rather just doing a good job. All things work for good to those who trust and believe in God's Word."

Mulmore continues to get help from a tutor through the Louisiana Rehabilitation Services and has access to a computer through a program called JAWS (Job Access With Speech) that allows blind and visually impaired users to read the screen with a text-to-speech output.

"I am learning much more now," Mulmore said. "The steps are slightly different but it gets you to the same place."

Mulmore expects to take the registered dietician exam soon and begin applying for work.

"I am going to take every exam I can," Mulmore said. "Anybody hiring somebody in nutrition, I will be applying."

And for the man nicknamed "Boomer" by his father Arthur "Buzz" Mulmore, the first African American postman in Plaquemine, at the age of one after former hockey great Bernard "Boom Boom" Geoffrion, maybe there are still miracles on the ice to be told.

"I have never been called anything else but Boomer," Mulmore said. "It has never faded."

Like the story he recalls of a blind person whose sight was mysterically restored.

"I turned the television on, flipped the channel and found a story about a blind person who was walking to work one day and some sunlight came through the window pane and hit him in the face," Mulmore said. "He fell to the floor and when he stood up, he was able to see the church across the street.

"It happened to him and it can happen to me. You hear some amazing stories all the time and you realize they are human beings just like you. Losing my sight has increased my vision. Remember, you can't achieve anything until you try something."