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OC Register: Where Kids Get Their Kicks - Cianna M.

August 21, 2006 at 3:00 am

“Will I be able to do all the things the other kids can do?”

That was one of the first questions Cianna Means, 13, asked her doctor four years ago after being diagnosed with bilateral optic atrophy, a condition that could eventually cause her to go completely blind.

The disconnection between her eye and the brain has left Cianna with no central vision.

But through the help of her karate instructor, Wayne Centra of Lake Forest, Cianna has proved that her vision impairment isn’t going to stop her from living life.

And it certainly isn’t going to stop her from doing what she loves – karate.

Centra, an occupational therapist at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in Orange, teaches a karate class at the hospital for children who have special needs. Through the class children improve coordination and build strength, range of motion, flexibility and self-confidence.

Centra’s students are blind, autistic, hearing-impaired, developmentally disabled and suffering from the effects of chemotherapy.

The 36-year-old was recently honored on Newsweek’s Web site as one of eight hometown heroes.

“Whether they’re feeble from months of suffering, overweight and lethargic from chemotherapy or simply lacking the confidence to reenter life outside the ward, Wayne revives kids’ fighting spirit,” said CHOC spokeswoman Denise Almazan, who nominated Centra for the award.


Many of Centra’s students start his class mad at the world, clinging to their parents, their heads bowed in shame.

But after a few weeks in his class, Centra can already see improved confidence in his patients.

“This class gives them the confidence to say, ‘Hey, I may not look normal but that’s OK,’ ” Centra said.

Cianna, who has been taking Wayne’s class for about three years, is just four months shy of earning her black belt. She relies solely on her peripheral vision and anticipates her opponent’s movements through the sounds of their breath, rustles in their clothing and foot stomps.

As Cianna spars at a recent class with one of her instructors, blocking his punches and kicks, you would never know her world was blurred and sometimes completely dark.

“I try to get in their brain to figure out what they are going to do next,” Cianna said.

Centra expects a lot from all his students. No matter what their condition is, he works with each of them to reach small, incremental goals.

“We find ways for them to be successful,” Centra said. “This is a safe environment where kids can take risks and we’ll support them.”


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