‘Before the sight loss I was a very busy building contractor,” says Paddy (67) from Kilcar.

I worked on a lot of buildings in Donegal, myself and my brother – houses, hotels, schools and community centres.

In 2011, my mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I gave up the building to look after her until she died in 2016. Then I looked after my father until my accident in 2019.

My mother was 91 when she died and my father lived until he was 99. When I lost my sight, my sister had to come in and look after him. I was here as well so she was looking after the two of us.

Keeping the sheep

One night in 2019, a vehicle in my local village, Kilcar, hit me and I lost my sight after that. They say I had a stroke at the back of my eyes but that’s all I really know about it.

I had 150 injuries so I’m lucky to be here. I was in hospital for 10 weeks in total, seven in Tallaght, five of them in a coma, and three in Letterkenny Hospital.

At the start, my sight was coming and going. I got wee glimpses and I had peripheral vision for five months after the accident. They told me I would be able to hold onto it but I lost it totally on 5 April 2020. Since then it’s total darkness, just pure black.

The doctors advised me to hold on to the sheep. They said I’d always have somebody coming to the house when I have sheep and that’s how it has worked out. I have a good friend who helps me with the shearing and the dosing and moving them. He comes often and it’s great to have someone to chat.

I have carers from the Irish Wheelchair Association who come twice a day, five days a week for two hours a day. One comes at 11am and the other at 4pm, and that keeps me going. I’m able to get up, wash and dress myself and make breakfast. They tidy up, change the bed and so on. Those 10 hours a week are a great help.

I feed the sheep morning and evening. I have three fields here, one below, one to the left and one behind and I can go there from memory and touch. The walking is good for me. I use the long cane to keep me from bumping into things.

I have my own sheepdog. I have the dog so long I think he knows I’m blind. At the moment, I walk with him and if any vehicle is coming towards us, he lies down. His hearing is 10 times better than mine.

Guide dog

I won’t get a guide dog, not yet anyway. I was in the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind centre in Ballincollig in Cork for two weeks, though, learning how to use the long cane, so that was a great help to me.

They teach you how to walk with it. They won’t give it to you until you do the course. I went there for another week to learn how to cut and chop sticks safely. I really enjoyed that too.

I didn’t tick the box for the guide dog. It has to live in the house with you and I just wasn’t ready for that. I will get one when the time is right.

The accident was a big shock. The hardest thing was I felt like I was letting my father down in his final days. My sister and two brothers helped out – it was a family thing until he died.

I’m living here in the family house on my own since, but I’m coping well. My sister and brothers are both 20 miles away, in different directions.

I went on holidays since my sight loss to Medjugorje. We flew to Croatia and then travelled into Bosnia on a bus. I really enjoyed that, meeting other people with sight loss who were very interesting to talk to, people who helped me have a different outlook on things.

I’m not that holy a person but I just wanted to go there. The singing was lovely, and climbing the mountain. I climbed up to the top and people found it unbelievable that I was able to do that. They found it hard to do it with sight, nevermind being blind, they said.

I went to San Giovanni in Italy where the relics of Padre Pio are. I was praying for a cure. He did cure people with blindness so you have to believe in that stuff.

Going there gave me comfort. I came back feeling far better. I met so many different people and it gives you great strength. There were 44 of us on the bus, all lovely people and I really enjoyed it.

I am going to Australia this Christmas. My partner has a son over there in Melbourne.

Keeping up with research

I try to keep up-to-date with research about sight loss, on the TV and that. I heard one day that doctors performed an operation on a man who had an accident with electricity where he lost half the side of his face so I kept following this on YouTube. I think there were about 150 doctors on that operation giving him a new eye, so if they are able to do that for him they might be able to help me too.

There’s nothing wrong with my eyes or my brain – it’s that my arteries collapsed [at the back of my eyes]. If they are able to transplant that man’s eye in America, maybe in a very short time they’ll be able to do something for people like me.

I’ll be going to the Fighting Blindness conference on 8 June. Events like that are great for hearing about new developments in research. I believe in the science end of things too and you meet a lot of people.

A couple of things I’d say to people that I’ve learned, and the biggest thing is to always wear a high vis jacket if you’re on the road when it is dark. I wasn’t wearing one, unfortunately, when I was crossing the street that night.

The other is don’t let sight loss get you down. Keep going forward because if you dwell on it, it’ll get you down. With any accident for that matter, you have to push yourself to get better and be able to do things.

I try to do as much as I did before, though the biggest change is that I can’t drive anymore. I can do everything else.

I have a partner and that’s very precious to me, because without her my life would be a disaster. She drives at the weekends and I take a taxi if I have to go somewhere on my own during the week. Her help is invaluable.

I’ve been going to classes to learn how to use my smartphone too. There’s podcasts to teach you how to send emails. There is so much you can do with those smartphones, it’s just knowing how.

An instructor came out to the house a couple of times too, and set me up with Siri on the phone so I can just ask what time it is, what’s the weather forecast or even, to ring someone. Between everything and everyone, I’m coping well.”

Five eye health tips Mark Cahill, consultant ophthalmologist

1. See eye to eye: Have regular eye checks every two years.

2. Feast your eyes: A diet rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamins A, C and E and omega-3 fatty acids is important.

3. Eye on the ball: Maintain good eye hygiene to avoid irritation and infection. Quit smoking as it can increase risk of cataracts and AMD.

4. Bat an eye: When using a screen follow the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes take a 20 second break and focus on something at least 20 feet away.

5. Apple of your eye: Make sure that your child attends for school eye tests so that any problems can be detected.

Eye conference in Dublin

Retina International World Congress (RIWC24), one of the world’s biggest gatherings of eye experts, will be hosted by the support organisation Fighting Blindness in the Dublin Royal Convention Centre, Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in early June. The public engagement day is Saturday, 8 June.

It will provide those who are blind or have vision impairment with information about the latest advances in treatments and cures, allow them to talk to experts and meet with peers and share experiences.

Some topics that will be covered include genetic testing and the importance of knowing your sight loss gene as well as challenges facing clinicians and patients in getting new medicines approved.

• Register to attend on 8 June at fightingblindness.ie

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