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Guide Dogs for the Blind Association:

Meet Sue Taylor

 

As Sue Taylor celebrated turning 32, she looked forward to the adventures ahead with her husband Don and five-year-old daughter Gemma. But just a few days after her birthday an underlying condition caused her eyesight to suddenly deteriorate. Sue had loved the outdoors, but her sight loss made her live in fear of the outside world and she ended up housebound for over ten years.

Now 58, Sue clearly remembers the moment she first experienced problems with her sight: “It was August bank holiday in 1989 just after my birthday when a black blob suddenly appeared in front of my right eye. It wasn’t painful at all, but it also wasn’t normal so I quickly headed to the nearest A&E. I could tell from the reaction it was serious and everything moved very quickly after that. I ended up having four operations in five weeks as they tried to save my sight, but a couple of months later my second eye also deteriorated.”

Sue, who now lives in Wiltshire with her husband Don, was told she had an underlying condition called lattice degeneration that was a ‘ticking time bomb’. They described her retina, the part of the eye that responds to light, as like cling-film where any stretching or trauma could cause a tear. She was told that as well as losing most of her sight she’d also have to be very careful in future not to cause further damage.

Sue says: “I suddenly became very vulnerable. When you have a little sight left you want to hold onto it. I was in my 30s going to eye clinics where everyone else was in their 60s and I just thought “Is this my life now.” I didn’t think I would ever have the problems I now have to deal with. But I wasn’t just struggling with the medical condition, I was also coping with the sudden change to the way I lived my life."

Sue describes the vision she has now as “like looking through dirty dishwater,” which makes it difficult for her to distinguish between shapes and colours. She also has tunnel vision in her left eye.

She stopped going anywhere on her own, and was making more and more excuses not to out. She struggled to get by without her sight but also found the reactions of others difficult to deal with. She says: “I was working as a receptionist but I felt like I was constantly on show. People would bang loudly on the desk if I hadn’t seen them. It put me in a really bad way.”

The real blow came in 1997 when Sue had to have her right eye removed. She describes this period as a very traumatic time: “Due to all the surgery over the years there were problems with the prosthesis, it wouldn’t stay well. I saw myself differently in the mirror and this made it even harder for me to go out and face people”.

“Life was just easier if I didn’t go out,” she says. “I was constantly apologising for bumping into people and things, but every bump was knock to my confidence. I would make any excuse not to go out until eventually I didn’t go out at all. I was housebound for over 10 years and if we did go anywhere I would never leave my husband’s side.”

After ten years of not leaving home alone a social worker eventually suggested that Sue contacted the Guide Dogs charity. Sue had thought only people who are completely blind could apply for a guide dog, when in fact only a very small percentage of guide dog owners have no sight at all. She was partnered with yellow Labrador, Leo, who she has now had for three years.

“He makes me,” Sue says. “Leo boosts my confidence and gets me out of the front door. When we’re out together it feels like we’re in a bubble and we’re safe. I have a glow and he makes me determined to get out more.”

Before Leo people would avoid talking to Sue and she was left feeling completely isolated from the world for many years. But Leo’s changed everything and now people want to come and talk to her and meet Leo. She says: “At first people would think I was training Leo, as I didn’t ‘look blind’, but I can now laugh about that. I love that people want to talk to me and I can tell them about the huge difference he’s made to my life. A trip to the supermarket now takes twice the time, but I don’t mind!”

“Life suddenly changes when you lose your sight, but Leo has given me mine back. The way he looks out for me is so touching. When I had a fractured metatarsal last year and needed an operation he instinctively knew to take it slower. Even in harness he’d turn round to look at me as if to say “Don’t worry, we’ll take it slow today.” Without him my world would be so much smaller.”

Sue credits Don and Gemma for giving her the courage to rebuild her confidence: “They’ve been a huge support and have put up with so much. But I also can’t thank Guide Dogs enough. Leo gives me a glow.”

About Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

Every hour, another person in the UK loses their sight and if this happens to you, the charity Guide Dogs is there to make sure you don’t lose your freedom as well.

We want everyone who experiences sight loss to be able to live their lives the way they choose and feel confident, independent and supported in the world. We’re a UK-wide charity, founded in 1934, and we’re specialists in giving people who are blind or partially sighted the means to live life on their own terms and to step out into the world again.

Find out more at
www.guidedogs.org.uk.

To help us continue our life-changing work, we rely on donations from individuals – the guide dog service does not receive any government funding. There are almost two million people in the UK living with sight loss today, a number which is predicted to double to four million by 2050, so we need your support to reach as many people who are blind or partially sighted as possible.

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