Teen Gives Up Role In Marching Band To Be Friend’s 'Eyes'

USATODAY_HumankindPublished: October 3, 2017161 views
Published: October 3, 2017

It's hard to pick out Autumn Michels and Rachael Steffens amid the crowd of musicians on Laingsburg High School’s football field at first glance. Rachael, a senior, is always close by to her 4-foot-4-inches tall 14-year-old friend Autumn, a freshman at her school. The reason behind their relationship will melt you through and through. Autumn has been blind almost her entire life.

An inoperable brain tumor near her optic nerves, called an optic nerve glioma, was discovered when Autumn was 7 months old. It grew steadily as she did. We can slow the progression by taking out some of the tumor, doctors told Autumn’s parents. Her optic nerves were an unavoidable casualty of the three surgeries that followed.

Autumn has memorized her surroundings at home. At school, Autumn navigates the hallways and classrooms, parking lot and band room with a cane. But the football field’s uneven ground is a challenge. So 17-year-old Rachael is her guide. Standing just behind her, she makes sure Autumn never misses a step while she marches along with the rest of her section.

Autumn learned how to march in a straight line with a guide in middle school, but finding a consistent helper for the handful of parades she took part in before high school wasn’t easy. She didn’t want to make another student choose between helping her and marching in the band. But when she met Rachael in a summer band camp, they hit it off right away. Rachael gladly gave up her spot on the marching band to be Autumn’s constant aid.

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