Struck blind at 23 Steven must navigate life’s barriers to regain his independence
15:00 10 March 2014
Steven has been struck blind at just 23-years-old. He is determined to overcome this tragedy and believes that in his unique situation he may one day be able to guide others. But the barriers his body has imposed on him have been heightened by what he believes is a lack of support from the outside world.
It was a Friday night and like many other twentysomethings, Steven Eaton was coming home from a night in the pub with his friends.
Then, suddenly, he was thrown into a world of darkness.
The 23-year-old of Charlotte Gardens, Collier Row, had been struck blind due to complications arising from diabetes.
Although losing his sight was inevitable, when it happened, he was understandably distraught.
Type 1 diabetes - The body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells. As insulin controls blood sugar levels, glucose levels rise which leads to organ damage.
Retinal haemorrhage - A disorder where bleeding occurs onto the light-sensitive tissue at the rear of the eye. This can be caused by diabetes.
Glaucoma - The eyes drainage tubes become blocked causing pressure to build up in the eyes. This can damage the eyes light-sensitive tissues.
“I stopped in the middle of the road,” he said. “I couldn’t see anything.”
His walk home would have normally taken him 10 minutes but on that night it took him two hours taking “tinkerbell” steps all the way.
In a rage he threw his phone on the floor. “What’s the point of having a phone? I can’t see to text,” he said.
Steven had lost the sight in one eye five months earlier.
“I was at work on the computers and then my right eye didn’t work,” he said. “Luckily, I had my phone next to me and I could remember how to ring my mum’s number without looking.”
He had not been at the job long at the Romford office suppliers and was upset.
“I was crying on the phone to my mum,” he said. “I couldn’t move from my chair,
“After that I went back to work with the one eye and tried to carry on working.”
Steven was seven when he was diagnosed with type one diabetes and over time the disease caused him to develop glaucoma and retinal haemorrhaging.
For two years before losing the sight in his right eye, he had been having monthly operations to relieve the pressure that was building due to the glaucoma.
When Steven lost the sight in his left eye in November he had to pack in the job and separated from his girlfriend who he had been living with.
He said he felt completely “useless and depressed”.
“I have only just come round in the past week,” he said. “I’m not happy yet, but I’m in a better state of mind.”
He has just five per cent vision in the left eye meaning he can only see things right in front of him, and even then with no clarity.
The laser eye surgery has also left him with side-effects.
“Sometimes when walking down the road I cower down with pain. It feels like lampshades coming towards my eyes.”
Despite the hand he has been dealt, Steven is looking forward to the future and can see a happy, independent life ahead. But he will need a lot of training before he can go solo.
He is reliant on his single-parent mother, who cares for him in the evenings, and when she’s at work, his grandmother.
Steven is disappointed with the support he has been given by the council. He said the support worker he has seen was very nice, he said, but she seemed like the only person in the borough providing the care.
Havering Council leader Cllr Steven Kelly said: “The sensory team is a small and very specialised service.”
And an RNIB spokesman said that rehabilitation services are suffering across the country due to budgets being cut.
Before Steven can begin his road to independence, he must learn to navigate with a long cane but he registered before and is still waiting.
Cllr Kelly said: “We are sorry that Mr Eaton has had to wait just over a month for long cane training. We are expecting to start his training in the next few weeks.”
And Steven has learned he must up to two years for a guide dog.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association said that this is normal maximum for someone to wait for a dog as it is such a complex process.
First a dog must be trained, which can take up to 18 months, and so must the owner. They also undergo rigorous checks to ensure the safety of the animal.
Steven applied in September for his Personal Independence Payment, a social security for the disabled, but is yet to receive any money.
“They keep saying they will ring back in five days but they never do,” he said.
Steven’s optimism is, however, inspiring and he looks forward to the day he receives his dog, and his independence, which will “bring a smile” to his face.
As he is unusually young to go blind, he aspires to help other youths in similar situations. “I need to get my confidence back,” he said.
“Then I can get a job perhaps talking to kids that have been affected by blindness like me.”