He Went Blind Before High School. His Teacher Aide Thanks Him For 'Saving' Her Graduating senior Cole Phillips lost his sight right before his freshman year. Rugenia Keefe was there to assist him in school. But, she says, Phillips was the one who got her through a dark time.
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He Went Blind Before High School. His Teacher Aide Thanks Him For 'Saving' Her

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He Went Blind Before High School. His Teacher Aide Thanks Him For 'Saving' Her

He Went Blind Before High School. His Teacher Aide Thanks Him For 'Saving' Her

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOEL KING, HOST:

Today on StoryCorps, Cole Phillips is blind. He lost his sight to glaucoma just a couple months before starting freshman year at Bentonville West High School in Arkansas. That's where he met Regina Keefe, known as Miss Ru. She's a paraprofessional, and she went to class with Cole for basically his entire high school career. So when he was assigned to record a StoryCorps conversation for his senior project, he knew exactly who he wanted to talk to. They talked remotely with StoryCorps Connect.

COLE PHILLIPS: I had just lost my sight. And as any normal teenager, you know, you always get worried about trying to fit in. And as if being blind didn't make stick out enough, I was like, I don't want some lady following me around everywhere. I'm trying to make friends, not lose them.

REGINA KEEFE: Yeah, uh-huh.

PHILLIPS: (Laughter) But by the end of the year, we started to click.

KEEFE: Cole, you were easy. You're like peanut butter. You get spread all over, and it sticks. I'll never forget. I couldn't go up the stairs, and I was like, oh, I'm getting old. And you're like, how old are you, Miss Ru? 'Cause I've got three more years of school and I just want to sure you're going to make it.

PHILLIPS: I hate it that I wasn't able to spend enough of my senior year with you in it. If this were to be our last conversation, is there anything you would want to say to me?

KEEFE: Oh, Cole, you saved my life. Four years ago, it was a dark time. I had a drug addict in my family, and you gave me a purpose to get me through. I was there to help you, but in the end, you were saving me. There were so many times that things were so bad and you would put your hand over my wrist and you were like, Miss Ru, it's going to be OK.

PHILLIPS: Even when you were going through such a hard time, you were somehow always caring about everybody else around you. One of the things that you taught me about is a sirsee (ph).

KEEFE: Just a Southern term for surprise.

PHILLIPS: Right, a gift that you aren't expecting. I think out of all the sirsees that you gave me during high school, you being in my life was the biggest sirsee that I could have asked for.

KEEFE: I told you not to make you cry.

PHILLIPS: (Laughter) I'm sorry. I think you should get half my diploma.

KEEFE: You earned every bit of it. I love you, and thank you for getting me through high school.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: That's Regina Keefe, who worked with Cole Phillips. Cole is going to University of Arkansas' Honors College in the fall. And their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.

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