I was born in August of 1970 blind in my left eye. This didn't seem to bother me as I grew up. I was still able to do everything I wanted. I married, had two children and started my own carpentry business and drove a car.
In June of 2005, our family moved to Florida. I got a job as a framing carpenter with a construction company out of Sarasota. Everything was going great. I loved doing carpentry and building houses, we were out of the cold weather of New England and starting our life anew. That all changed on September 5, 2005.
I went to work that day as normal. Never knowing that my life would be changed forever by that evening. When I went to nail a board to the doorframe I was working on, the nail gun I was using misfired. Instead of the nail coming out the bottom of the gun, it came out the side with an unimaginable force. Unfortunately, I was not wearing safety glasses and I was hit in the eye (the right one – my only good one) by the nail. I could not see at all. I don't even know how I got down from the staging I was on. My boss brought me to the hospital where my wife met me. There was nothing they could really do. They say the nail did not puncture my eye (there were no puncture wounds), but I still to this day say it did. They were able to get me into an eye doctor who gave me medication to try and bring down the size of the pupil (it was fully dilated) to see if I would be able to get some vision back. They patched it and told me not to try and use that eye. I was totally blind at this time. I went back almost daily for 3 weeks. They were able to bring back some vision but not all of it. I was then referred to Sarasota Retina Institute and was seen a few times a week for about 6 months and still go twice a year at the present. I was told I could go back to work during this time, however, I tried and the anxiety I had from the accident made me terrified to use the nail gun again. I then had to change professions – I was too afraid to do the job I had loved my entire life.
I went to work as an apartment maintenance person. I was still able to drive and liked my job. My vision was still not that great and I continued to see my doctor monthly. Every time I went though, I felt that I was seeing less and less.
In 2007, I was told I was "legally blind". I had lost most of my vision. I only have about 10% tunnel vision in my right eye now and it is permanently dilated so I am severely photophobic (very sensitive to light). I had to give up my license and I lost my job as I could no longer safely perform my duties. I grew more and more depressed. I felt like my life was over.
While I was taking classes at the Lighthouse of Manasota to learn how to use my walking cane (and having quite the difficulty with it) and how to deal with my new existence, they told me that there was another option. I could get a service animal to help me. I was worried that I would have a problem with another dog in the house since I already had a pet, so I waited. One day after having a problem with someone kicking my cane and almost being hit by a car yet again, I thought I would give it a try and filled out the application.
I was visited by the people from Southeastern Guide Dogs and that is when my life took another turn – but for the better. I was accepted into the program and was going to be matched with a guide. The first time I met my guide Taylor, she changed my world. We spent that first night on the floor together cuddling. She was healing my heart from the very first minute. We spent the next 21 days getting adjusted to each other and learning to become a team. After we graduated we were inseparable for the next 6 years. She was my left hand (as she was always on my left) and my best friend. She helped me heal and become adjusted to my new life. Unfortunately, she succumbed to cancer in February of 2015. She is now my angel.
I was not yet ready for another guide at this time. I had to heal from the loss of Taylor but in April of 2015 after my wife saw me staying in more and not doing as much, I decided it was time for another. But this time I had a few requirements. I needed a guide that liked the water and adventure. I love being outdoors and in the water. I wanted my guide to be with me during these times.
I was matched in May 2015 with Cooper Michael (we call him Coopie). My wife says he is my perfect partner. We have the same likes and attitude and go almost everywhere together. He is by my side when we go to the beach, when I go kayaking – even to Disney. Where Taylor was my heart, Coopie is my adventure. I cannot wait to see where we take each other.
I've set an ambitious Walkathon fundraising goal, and your help means a lot to me—and to the people like me whose lives are changed forever because of these extraordinary dogs. Your donation makes it possible for these puppies to stay healthy and grow into dogs of the highest caliber. These dogs really do make a difference and you can, too. Join me in supporting Southeastern Guide Dogs in its mission to raise and train these puppies and provide such a priceless service. Thank you for your help!
P.S. Help break a World Record! At this year's Walkathon, Southeastern Guide Dogs will attempt to break an existing World Record for the largest gathering of dogs wearing bandanas at a single event. We need you! All you have to do is show up with your dog(s), and they will supply the bandanas. Bring your friends and their dogs and help us break a world record!