Imagine waking up in a foggy haze, in which you are surrounded by unfamiliar sounds and voices. As the fog lifts from your mind you remember that you have just awoken after back surgery and must be in the recovery room. Concerned, you ask the question,
“Is there something over my eyes…because I can’t see anything?”
Sudden blindness was beyond anything Doyle “Dee” Ward ever imagined when he went in for back surgery. Within a moment of time Dee’s life had changed forever.
Through fear Dee thought, “How am I going to do any of the things I used to do if I can’t see.”
Dee’s extremely supportive family helped guide him to Vision Forward (VF) where his fears were put to the test as he worked towards his goal to live independently. To Dee making this step ignited the fear because it required acceptance with his new condition. But due to his determination to continue to be a positive role model for his children and teach them “to never, ever, ever, give up” he worked through his fears. Dee’s determination led him to work with Steve, VF’s Orientation and Mobility(O&M) Specialist, to learn to maneuver successfully with a cane. Dee passes the credit on by saying, “Steve empowered me to move on.” But it is truly Dee’s optimistic attitude that has allowed Dee to be open to learning how to navigate his journey toward a more independent lifestyle.
To continue on his journey toward interdependence Dee has taken training courses with Cory, VF Assistive Technology Specialist, to learn how to use technology with accessible enhancements. Dee jokes that he is a “more efficient typer, now that I can’t see the keys.” His past work colleagues would be impressed with this newfound skill, since his inability to type efficiently was an ‘office’ joke in the past.
Dee also worked with Rose, an Occupational Therapist, to learn to safety work in the kitchen to create meals, such as tacos, spaghetti and even make brownies for dessert. Rose affectionately remarks that “Dee’s success is due to his positive attitude and family support.” In reflection on these experiences Dee remarked, “I learned a lot”, sometimes stating to his wife “You are never going to believe what I did today”.
Recently, the addition of Chance, Dee’s guide dog, has provided another resource to lead him to greater independence. Though, according to Dee, Chance is still in training. Some days they are best friends, others ‘arch rivals’, especially when Chance leads Dee into ditches or decides to lift his leg on Dee, rather than a tree. At those times Dee says, “I love my cane.”
It has been almost two years since the surgery. Despite Dee’s amazing achievements in such a short time he struggles with the worry that he is not a contributing member of his family, jokingly referring to himself as the “pet rock”. He desperately wants to be acknowledged as a good father and supportive husband.
In moments of reflection Dee shows extreme admiration for his family. Shelly [Dee’s wife] has to take up the slack… but she was there holding my hand whenever I was scared… She was always there.”
“I am so pleased with my children’s successes, but it hurts that I can’t see them.” Since the incident Casey, 25, has completed his police academy training. And though Dee was able to participate in the pinning ceremony he missed admiring his son’s smile. Sydney’s, 19, graduation was an event that Dee is thankful to have heard, but he would have loved to gaze upon her in her gown. And Brady, 16, that ‘blonde tousled head of hair was the last think I remember seeing before the surgery’. He is the quarterback this year, which almost wasn’t the case. Brady had stated shortly after the incident that “he didn’t want to be in football if his dad couldn’t see him play.” Now Dee’s, dear friend, Jason; who refers to Dee as “positive” and “optimistic”; provides him with the “play by play” at Brady’s games. In reflecting on his children, Dee ponders that “it is like preparing the garden and then when spring comes and you can’t see the flowers bloom.”
Dee’s siblings have also been extremely supportive and loving. His sisters are his constant champions, fighting on his behalf as they look out for his best interests. “Dee is someone I believe in and would fight for… we lean on him because he is willing to listen… he is a kind-hearted man,” Claudia, Dee’s younger sister, shared. His siblings take turns doing the yard work, an activity Dee truly misses. But they find time to enjoy activities, never ventured before, with their brother. For example, his sister, Joanna, has joined Dee in taking Ukulele lessons every week. And last, but most definitely not least, little 12-year-old niece, Ella, has been “my blind guide”, “helping me with my computer and around the house.” Claudia, Ella’s mother, says with pride, “Ella has found a great friend in her uncle.”
Through emotional tears Dee raves immensely about his family, but yet only briefly touches on the fact that he is the one that walks to Ella’s school, cane in one hand, and Chance’s lease in the other, to pick Ella up and walk her home. Dee also downplays the fact that he has overcome fear after fear to focus on his ability rather than his disability. Dee is a true champion, being thrown into an unexpected life altering situation, and coming out on top.
But the reality is that despite Dee’s many successes, he is still recovering from a significant loss. The grief process of losing one’s sight is lengthy. Dee, therefore, continues to participate in the VF’s small group sessions with peers that have similar stories. Erica, VF Social Worker, oversees these beneficial sessions to help attendees with the grieving process, on their journey to healing.
Thanks to you and all of Vision Forward’s loyal supporters, Dee and many others can be supported on their path to recovery.