Originally published in (1st quarter) 2014 print issue of Empower Magazine
When Johnnie V. Moutra and his spouse won ABC’s “Here Come the Newlyweds” competition in 2008, he was on top of the world. Five years later his life would turn upside down with the loss of his marriage, his home and a devastating diagnosis that would rob him of his vision.
Six months after the show aired, Moutra remembers sitting in his Fresno home flicking through the channels on his TV and noticing that his vision was slightly blurred. Later in the day while driving along the road, the lights appeared as a shadowy halo.
Alarmed at the sudden change in his vision, he immediately scheduled an appointment with an eye doctor who delivered the devastating diagnosis of ‘keratoconus,’ a degenerative eye disorder that causes the vision to progressively deteriorate.
In his mid 20s, with no family history of the condition, Moutra listened in shock as his doctor described the disorder and told him he could eventually lose his sight.
As his vision worsened, Moutra was forced to sell the home he and his spouse, at that time, had purchased with the winnings from the reality TV show and move back in his parents’ Missouri City home.
His failing eye sight would soon force him to resign his position as a teacher at The Bearrington School, his family’s learning academy.
“I developed depression and anxiety and would have panic attacks. I was crying every day. Not being able to see is hard and not being able to do things for my son,” says Moutra, recalling his journey.
The person with a gift for making others smile and who lit up the screen with his comedic timing as the ‘Season One’ winner of ‘Here Come the Newlyweds’, now found himself staying in his room and no longer answering his phone.
“My mother constantly encouraged me and my father began telling me that I had to get back to myself,” says Moutra.
Looking for something to redirect his focus, Moutra was searching the Internet with the use of a visual magnifier, when he saw an ad for a recording arts program at MediaTech Institute in Houston.
A New Direction
Dabbling at songwriting growing up, Moutra decided to enroll in the program.
“It was the most exciting time in my life, until I remembered my vision. I had lost everything, and this school was all I had and I didn’t want to have to stop,” says Moutra.
Within days of enrolling, he visited with his financial aid counselor and shared his thoughts of giving up because of his failing vision and limited finances.
So moved by Moutra’s circumstances, his financial aid counselor searched the Internet to find help for his condition. She eventually located a doctor in California and encouraged Moutra to write a letter describing his eye disorder. In response to his letter, he was granted the funds to have surgery on both of his eyes, however was not able to afford the flight to California to undergo surgery.
She continued her efforts to help Moutra and contacted representatives with the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) who introduced him to their services and provided him with a laptop and software to aid him in his studies.
Determined to excel and obtain his recording arts degree in audio engineering, Moutra often stayed at school until 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning to study and practice on the recording and audio equipment and receive assistance from the technicians who knew about his visual challenges.
“I ended up being one of the best producers and audio engineers there. I made straight A’s because I had to memorize everything. My memory got so much better because I couldn’t see and everything else was enhanced.
That is why I am a very good producer because I hear things that a lot of people can’t hear,” said Moutra.
Today Moutra calls it “amazing” that he is the only student to be listed as a graduate success story on the program’s website out of all of the students that have gone through the program.
“It is nothing but God. Through my trials and tribulations, it is nothing but God that allowed me to become better at who I am supposed to be as far as being an engineer.”
What amazes him more are the many signs and daily miracles that God allowed him to experience along the way following his devastating diagnosis.
Ironically, one of those signs came two weeks before he began having challenges with his vision.
I was heading to work one morning when suddenly the inspiration for a song came to my mind and I told my wife, at that time, to grab something to write down the words,” said Moutra.
By the time he arrived at the family’s Stafford-area school, he had the lyrics to a full song that he titled, “Surprise.”
For Moutra the lyrics would become a message from God on the journey He would carry him through.
“Every time I almost gave up, God would give me a sign,” said Moutra.
“I know that God was telling me that I know you are going to have to go through a whole lot, but it is OK, everything is happening for a reason,” says Moutra.
With his audio engineering degree under his belt, Moutra submitted a business plan in a special DARS program that grants funds to students with disabilities who want to start their own businesses.
“I have always been raised to have a business because of my family who are all entrepreneurs,” says Moutra.
Within three months, he wrote his plan and received a $10,000 grant to launch his business and became the first student to be approved for funding through the program.
All Star Recording Parties Is Born
Today, Moutra has combined his experience working with children and his education in recording arts to launch a new business venture called “All-Star Recording Parties.”
Made popular in the United Kingdom, Moutra is one of a small number of businesses offering the music recording party experience here in the United States.
All Star Recording Parties bring a unique mobile recording experience to birthday parties, family gatherings, live concerts, public and private schools, church choirs and office parties. His company also produces red carpet style photo and video shoots.
Individuals can choose one of four party packages to transform their next party or special event into a one-of-a-kind recording party.
“They will receive a copy of their recording the same day to send to their friends or family via social media or to upload on YouTube,” says Moutra.
A member of the National Association of Recording Industry Artists and owner of H.O.M.E. (Heartbeats Optimizing in Music & Entertainment) Studios, Moutra and business partner, Breigh Dionne, produced a song for Grammy-nominated artist, Tamar Davis, a former background singer for Prince and star of several Tyler Perry plays before his eye condition worsened.
The duo also served as executive producers for Houston artist Marium Echo’s “Letters and Numbers” album, released in May 2013, and will be producing an album for up-and-coming 13-year-old singer, Aysia Milaan, set for release in 2014.
With all that Moutra has gone through, one might think he might be counting his losses, but following surgery on his left eye six months ago, Moutra is on the path to a new life.
“I had a corneal transplant on my left eye on Aug. 23, 2013. It is almost unheard of for someone of my age to have to have a corneal transplant. They had to wait until someone passed away, someone young enough so that it would be a strong enough cornea,” describes Moutra.
He credits his faith in God as the lifeline that helped him navigate through the obstacles in his life.
“I am a very spiritual person and I know better than to get down on myself, I know better than to complain. I know that God was with me.
I know because of the signs. I know because of the miracles – there were really small miracles everyday, and that is what kept me,” says Moutra.
Moutra describes the moment that inspired him to shake off his losses and begin again.
“I had an epiphany after seeing a video on YouTube of TD Jakes’ message, ‘Nothing That You Have Been Through Will be Wasted‘. It was so moving and instantly lifted me out of all of the depression,” says Moutra, whose new outlook led him to adopt new eating habits and drop 100 pounds.
With custody of his son three times a week, the launch of a new business venture and hopes for new music projects on the horizon, Moutra still has challenges with his sight, but is focused on his future and the renewed hope God has given him.
“My left eye is improving. My doctor told me that my corneal implant is failing, but I am seeing things better, so I don’t always listen to the doctors. It takes about a year for it to heal,” says Moutra.
He has plans to have corneal transplant surgery to restore sight in his right eye this summer.
All I can do is depend on God and that is what He wants us all to do, to depend totally on Him,” says Moutra.
Moutra, who has launched a crowd funding campaign for his business, hopes to open a studio for his All Star Recording Parties to host parties and record music for artists. If enough money is raised, he also plans to conduct workshops for individuals with disabilities and those who cannot afford to enroll in a recording arts school or institute.
“I know that God has something so amazing in store,” says Moutra.