Seeing blindness as a new beginning

RICHARD Lampard was sitting at a table chattering to friends when “the lights went out”. Suddenly completely blind he faced a terrifying future as his world turned upside down.

RICHARD Lampard was sitting at a table chattering to friends when “the lights went out”.

Suddenly completely blind he faced a terrifying future as his world turned upside down.

Today, a year on, JAMES MARSTON tells his inspiring story.

IT started in 2000.

Richard was suffering headaches and went to the opticians.

He said: “I thought I needed glasses but they found I had cataracts on both eyes.”

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He didn't know it but Richard's eyesight was deteriorating brutally fast.

He said: “The cataract operations didn't really work. I had a lot of tests but they never really found out why my eyes were deteriorating.”

By 2003 his job as a docker at Felixstowe Docks came to an end. He could no longer see well enough to carry on.

For a while he worked in Whitehouse Enterprises, an Ipswich-based firm specialising in employing adults with disabilities and long term health problems.

Richard, of New Road, Trimley St Mary, said: “I was a key worker there for a while but gave that up in 2006. I have been at the Papworth Trust in Museum Street since.”

In 2006 his eyesight finally failed.

The 44-year-old said: “It was about a year ago. I was sitting at a table and the lights went out. I could see shadows before that.

“I was told it was the next stage of going blind but I didn't know what to do.

“Going blind is not something you can prepare for. It is very hard. It is like going through bereavement. My world had gone completely black and it is the same today.

“It was a quite a vigorous deterioration and no one could help me. They still don't know why it happened and what caused it.

“It is unusual to have no sight at all and it is frightening. For the first two weeks I stayed in my house.”

Always an active man Richard found himself facing a decision.

He said: “It would have been easy to have stayed in and become a recluse but I had to say to myself that I have got to carry on and make the best of it.

“I wasn't sure how I would cope but I wanted to carry on life as best I could. I knew I had to make something of my situation.”

Determined to enjoy life, Richard gradually began to rehabilitate himself and start living his life.

He said: “Ever since I made that decision to life live things have been good. I'm learning things everyday.”

Swimming, running, shooting, Richard, who always enjoyed exercise and fresh air, forced himself to get out of the house and get active.

He said: “The first time I went out alone was very difficult but I put myself into a mood where I didn't care. The majority of people are helpful. I knew I would walk into things and bump into people but I had to do it.

On June 1 last year Richard got his guide dog Ivan. He is also visited twice a week by his support worker Keith Stafford.

He said: “I take Ivan, my guide dog, for a walk every day. I was really lucky. I put my name down and he came up in the first six to eight months.”

Now able to get the bus into Ipswich or Felixstowe, Richard regularly swims at Crown Pools and enjoys running through the country lanes of Trimley.

He said: “I have a mental map in my head and my brain is like a computer. I count steps from places I go to. I go running once a week. Keith is with me and I find running relaxes me.

“It's the only time I can switch off as every other time I have to be aware of what's going on around me.”

A DIY enthusiast Richard, who has a 16-year old son from a previous marriage, is currently redecorating his kitchen and during the summer he is planning to put up a new garden shed.

He said: “It might take longer than it used to but I can still do many of the things I used to do. I do more now that I used to really.”

Currently drawing incapacity benefit, Richard said he would prefer to earn his own living.

He said: “I am 44 and I'd ideally like to go back to full time work. I have twenty years ahead of me and though I might take a bit longer to learn a job there are things I can do.

“I don't want to rely on handouts but each employer I have approached told me they couldn't insure against accidents if they had a blind person working for them.

“I need someone to give me the chance to get back to work.”

Since losing his sight his other senses have compensated.

Richard said: “My ears are now my eyes and my sense of direction has improved. I miss seeing people's facial expressions, a lot of communication is done through body language.

“I have managed to learn Braille and I'm currently studying for IT qualifications in word processing and spreadsheets.

“Someone reads a book to me while I practice my speed at typing. It's also a way for me to enjoy a book.”

Paying tribute to Glenda, his partner of 14 years, Richard said: “It hasn't been easy for her and often when someone goes blind relationships do not last.

“It is very difficult for her that I can't do the things I used to but we have adapted. I wondered how she would cope but she has been a brick.”

Planning to learn ice skating and go bowling Richard has made a decision not to succumb to his disability.

He said: “I'd never really done much running before but I have set myself hurdles to get over which help me grow in confidence.

“I now have to be careful not to take too much on but I want to have a go at trying everything I can. Life is not over yet and in a way going blind is a new beginning.”

Keith has been assigned to Richard as his support worker since August last year.

Keith said: “Richard inspires me and he has a very big heart. He is always achieving new things and his message is that if he can do these things then so can other people.

Richard's world is totally black, which is very difficult, but he wants to make progress. It takes a while but many of the things he found difficult at first are now second nature to him.”

“I'm very lucky to be able to work with him.”

Do you have an inspiring story to tell? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

MANY people with serious visual impairments can travel independently assisted by tactile paving and/or using a white cane, the international symbol of blindness.

A long cane is used to extend the user's range of touch sensation, swung in a low sweeping motion across the intended path of travel to detect obstacles.

However, some visually impaired persons do not carry these kinds of canes, opting instead for the shorter, lighter identification (ID) cane. Still others require a support cane.

Each of these is painted white for maximum visibility, and to denote visual impairment on the part of the user.

A small number of people employ guide dogs.

Although the dogs can be trained to navigate various obstacles, they are partially (red-green) color blind and are not capable of interpreting street signs.

The human half of the guide dog team does the directing, based upon skills acquired through previous mobility training.

The handler might be likened to an aircraft's navigator, who must know how to get from one place to another, and the dog is the pilot, who gets them there safely.

Many blind people will accept help, however, make sure that they are aware that you are going to help them, and offer your arm, not your whole body.

Smoking doubles your chances of sight loss in later life.

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