CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – Heidi Piroso can’t see the beautiful colors she knits into afghans for New Hampshire hospice patients.

The 24-year-old Concord resident lost her sight 10 years ago, but that has not stopped her from riding horses, learning massage and crocheting. Since July, she has spent nearly 500 hours making more than 50 blankets for patients of Beacon Hospice.

She counts stitches with her fingers and puts a clip on the piece so she knows where the corners are. She got started with a $100 grant to buy yarn but now relies on donations.

“Pretty much everything you can do sighted, you can do without sight,” Piroso said.

Piroso, who grew up in Canterbury, knew from a young age that tumors lurked behind her eyes. Although she was born with sight, she grew blind gradually. She finally lost her eyesight altogether in the second semester of ninth grade at Belmont High School. As her eyes dimmed, she learned to do more by touch.

“Because it was gradual, it was an easier transition than someone who had full sight one minute then went totally blind,” Piroso said. “I could adapt more easily.”

Piroso learned to count out change – quarters and dimes have ridges, pennies and nickels don’t, and they are all different sizes. She cooks and she swims.

She loves horses and is the only rider at her Goffstown stable to ride Western style. That way, she has a horn in front of her to hold onto, which makes it possible to ride without seeing. She loves brushing horses’ coats and even cleaning their stalls.

After high school, Piroso completed a massage training course, although she still has not passed the state and national tests. She dreams of opening a vending business, doing equine massage and training kids not to be afraid of horses.

Piroso learned to crochet at the same time she became blind. Her cousin taught her the basic stitch, and her grandmother and aunt helped her perfect it. When she crochets, she looks down at her work and counts stitches.

She can complete a 3-by-3-foot lap blanket in under three hours. A full size blanket takes a day. When she tires of yarn, she uses lamb’s wool, crochet cotton or chenille. Her favorite blanket, which she kept for herself, is chenille and looks like a chocolate chip cookie.

She calls “crazy quilts” the ones she doesn’t keep track of colors.

At first, Piroso donated blankets to Warm-Up America!, a program run which gives blankets to the homeless. In July, Marcia Sprague, volunteer coordinator at the Beacon Hospice office in Concord, asked her to crochet for the hospice program.

Beacon Hospice, a for-profit agency, has 23 offices throughout New England and provides hospice care to those with less than six months to live. It relies on volunteers.

“I love donating to people and making their day,” she said. “When it comes to elderly people, I can do something and help them improve their life,” she said.

Sprague said each of the organization’s patients now has a blanket.

Piroso likes to crochet to keep busy.

“My fingers get bored when I’m not doing anything,” she said.

Information from: Concord Monitor,

AP-ES-02-18-08 1256EST

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