“Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.”                                                                               G. K. Chesterton

Fall 1986 – National Jewish Senior Facility – Denver, Colorado: Ramona Pierson wasn’t the typical new patient when she arrived at the nursing home. Her unusual case surprised and piqued the interest of the staff and the roughly one hundred seniors living in the facility. They observed a painfully thin young girl who was blind, could not talk and was all alone. The nursing home had finally agreed to take Ramona when they learned that she had nowhere else to go.

Ramona’s father died of a heart attack when she was 12. After that she was abandoned by her mother and mostly on her own. At 16, with the encouragement of a school guidance counselor and the support of a Marine Corps scholarship, the young math prodigy enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. Two years later, Ramona joined the Marine Corps and was assigned to the base at El Toro, California. Her job was designing computer algorithms for fighter squadrons.

In June 1984, as was her custom, Ramona arrived home from work and took her dog for a long run. As they jogged across an intersection, a drunk driver sped through the light and hit them. The dog was killed instantly. The 22-year-old Marine was caught in the vehicle wheel well. The car bumper ripped open her throat and chest, exposing her heart. She was quickly bleeding to death. The paramedics at the scene, expected the young woman to be dead upon arrival at the hospital.

Despite her horrible injuries, Ramona made it to the hospital. A team of doctors saved her life despite massive injuries to her face, head, chest and legs. After two months in a coma, the hospital gave up on her ever-regaining consciousness. They moved her to a nearby V.A. hospital. After being shuttled to a second V.A. hospital, where she finally regained consciousness, Ramona wound up at National Jewish Senior Center18 months after her accident.

The staff and residents at National Jewish were moved by Ramona’s situation. She became their personal rehabilitationproject and they, and they became like surrogate grandparents. Several men found furniture for Ramona’s room. Some women bought clothes to replace the young woman’s green scrubs. Others frequently visited her room to encourage her. The residents refused to give up on Ramona’s seemingly hopeless situation.

It took three years for her to learn again how to walk and talk. Four years after her accident, Ramona finally left the nursing home. With the financial support of the residents, she got a seeing-eye dog and enrolled at a local community college. Ramona earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Fort Lewis College in Colorado and then her master’s in education from the University of San Francisco.

In 1995, after 11 years of using a cane and guide dog, Ramona underwent a corneal transplant and regained sight in her left eye. Three years later, she earned a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and Psychology from Stanford University. Ramona then joined the university staff researching the effects of traumatic brain injuries in soldiers returning from the Middle East.

In 2008, Ramona started Synaptic Mash, an education software company, which she sold for $10 million to a British Company three years later. In 2012, Ramona started Declara, another educational software company. The company provided intellectual and social learning platforms for governments, academic institutions and private companies worldwide.

In 2015, President Obama honored Ramona Pierson in a White House ceremony for high tech entrepreneurs. “A lot of people would have been broken by Ramona’s experience,” the President commented. “While she was at the nursing home, nobody could have imagined that she would one day be a significant tech entrepreneur who was honored at the White House.”

Today, 69-year-old Ramona lives in Seattle and is the head of data innovation for PricewaterhouseCoopers. She leads the project to identify the next generation of computers and the use of artificial intelligence. She enjoys rock climbing and is a master’s world-class competitor in cycling. She has had more than 50 surgeries to her face, chest, and legs. “I’m here today,” says Ramona, “because of the hope, collaboration, encouragement and support of many people, especially my grandparents at the senior center in Colorado.”