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Column I went blind at 14 – but my guide dog Miles has changed my life

Kevin Kelly was plunged into a world of darkness when he went completely blind at just 14, but thanks to his companion Miles he has been able to obtain a Master’s degree and pursue the career he wanted.

Kevin Kelly is 26-years-old, originally from Donegal and now living in Dublin. On the 18th September 2001 he lost his eyesight at the age of 14. Since then, Kevin has gone on to study Journalism at DCU and obtained a Master’s degree from DIT in Public Affairs and Political Communications. He currently works as a political assistant in Leinster House and is a member of the Irish national Blind Football Development squad. Pictured below with his invaluable first guide dog, Miles, who he has had since June 2008, Kevin details what it is like to have to readjust to a life without eyesight.

WHEN I WAS TWELVE, in 2000, I lost my sight in my right eye because of a retinal detachment. I had six operations and procedures but my sight in that eye simply could not be saved.

Nearly two years later I awoke on Tuesday the 18th of September 2001 with an awful sense of doom. It was happening again – just like two years previously, the only difference being it was the left and not the right this time. Utter panic and desperation flooded my mind as I rubbed and rubbed my left eye, but it just wouldn’t go away. It could only be described as the last flickering throes of a TV losing its colour as pink and yellow and green lines ran across the screen that is my eye.

My head began to throb: “Why me? What did I do that was so wrong that this had to happen?” I knew right away what was happening; I had been here before. The prognosis was bleak, desolate – as the outcome was unlikely to be any different from the first time. Retinal detachments are treatable and there is a high success rate for retaining one’s sight after surgery. But in my case, given my extreme level of short sightedness and the family history of eye problems, namely Stickler syndrome, a genetic disorder, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

‘I awoke to total darkness’

On reaching the Eye and Ear Hospital, there was no need for a detailed examination to diagnose the problem. We all knew it was a retinal detachment; Dr Barry barely took a momentary glance into the back of my eye. He said “We’ll have to operate first thing in the morning, as if we are to have any chance we must act fast”.

I awoke from the operation to total darkness, not even black and white moving images that I had begun to accept as normal. Even though I was extremely groggy, in the distance I could hear Mr. Barry saying “Mr and Mrs Kelly, I am afraid the operation wasn’t a success your son is unlikely to retain any sight”.

Within forty-eight hours after waking up on that Tuesday 18th September I was in total darkness and the world I had grown up in was no longer.

imageKevin and Miles.

‘My life changed forever’

I was suddenly unable to complete simple tasks like writing or reading. It was as if I was a baby again having to learn from scratch; but this time without the blessing of sight. My life changed forever. For a long time I drifted around in a bubble of self-pity and anger before it eventually subsidised and was replaced with a determination that my lack of sight wasn’t going to hold me back.

My new found strength was galvanised largely from my family and friends but in particular from my mother who nursed me through every stage of the transition, despite my sometimes unfair treatment of her. Yet her love for me never relented. It is something which I am eternally grateful to her for as I know without it I simply wouldn’t have been able to deal with my new life in the dark.

The single biggest adjustment for me was how to get around without any eyesight. At home in Donegal my visual memory lessened the impact of being blind as I was able to whizz around with my cane without too much difficulty. However, the gravity of my situation became clear when I moved to Dublin. No longer being able to rely on my visual memory I quickly found myself becoming more and more isolated.

I was able to walk confidently again

Having previously considered a guide dog and opted against it because I thought it would be too much work, I quickly reconsidered. In June 2008, my Guide Dog Miles entered my life and totally transformed how I got around. Any fears that having a dog would place restrictions on my life were dispelled immediately. For the first time in seven years I felt that I was able to walk in a confident and secure manner just like I did prior to the date forever etched out in my mind – 18th September 2001.

Without Miles my life would be very different. Having a dog is the best aid I have acquired in my 12 years of blindness and has allowed me to achieve everything I want.

Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind is a national charity that provides Guide Dogs to people who are visually impaired and Assistance Dogs to children with autism free of charge. 80 per cent of their funding comes from fundraising events and donations. Please help us change a life today by donating online:

Today is World Sight Day.

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