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Lighting up the dark

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Connie Lydon has learned to live with visual impairment and tries to lead as normal a life as possible. She is seen here helping her daughters Saoirse and Ciara with their homework at their home in Ballinrobe.?
Connie Lydon has learned to live with visual impairment and tries to lead as normal a life as possible. She is seen here helping her daughters Saoirse and Ciara with their homework at their home in Ballinrobe.?Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Lighting up the dark

Two Mayo women talk about how visual impairment has affected their lives

Willie McHugh

Connie Lydon
THE first impression of Connie Lydon is her jovial personality and the ability to laugh about life. Connie refers to it as black humour. It’s anything but.
Within minutes of meeting her you forget Connie has impaired vision. Life is about the normal now. Over a cup of tea in her kitchen she talks of an upcoming family wedding and all the preparation and excitement it entails.
She recalls another Easter without any hint of self-pitying. Seven years ago almost to the day and all was well with the world. Connie worked as an assistant pharmacist in John O’Donnell’s Pharmacy in Castlebar. A mother of one, Connie was expecting her second child. She was returning home to An Cladrach outside Ballinrobe.
“I was this side of Partry and a van was travelling in front of me. Suddenly my vision became blurred and I didn’t know whether the van was going right or left or overtaking. Someone was minding me that evening because I got home safe, but I don’t know how. “
It triggered the start of a testing journey for Connie. “I went to Galway Eye Clinic and after all the tests there they discovered I had a tumour. I was transferred to the Beaumont that night. Even the trip to Dublin was eventful. The ambulance broke down leaving Galway and I ended up having two squad cars on the journey.
“The next day they delivered my baby Ciara in the Rotunda. It was all happening very fast but it was lovely to have her in the middle of it all. That was Good Friday and the following Thursday I had surgery to remove the tumour. I came out from that with no vision at all.”
Returning home to Mayo she had a new baby to cope with as well as the recovery from her operation. It’s a measure of Connie’s determination how she succeeded.
She talks of all the wonderful support she received. “There was home help organised and a lady from Enable Ireland to come and help me. We used go out for walks every day in an effort to get back into independent life again.
“Within a year I had achieved that and I don’t need home help now. I was able to take control of my own life again. I was determined from the start and my other coping mechanisms kicked in.
“With the help from my husband Pat we worked at getting everything back to normal and with two children, Saoirse was three now, it was important to us that we did that. It’s been a progression and baby steps but I was determined to get back doing housework and looking after the two girls on my own. Thank God I’ve managed that.
“We do the homework and have lovely times together that we mightn’t otherwise have. Every cloud has a silver lining and it’s up to us to find it.
“It was a big adjustment for Saoirse, in particular, because I disappeared suddenly for two weeks and then returned home with no sight. It was a lot for her to take on but, as she gets older, she can talk about it now whereas she couldn’t express it when she was three. But she’s brilliant help and it’s funny when we’re out and she lends me her elbow and she’s watching out for me.
“Ciara, on the other hand, knew no different and it’s so funny how she tells me to put my glasses on when I ask her where such a thing is.
“Ciara is a real wind-up merchant and I get the odd chance to get her back. In a shop in Galway one day she lay on the floor and when I told her to get up she asked me could I see, or how did I know what she was doing. But she’s great and always offering to bring me places. They both love helping me.” 
There were other milestones and learning curves. “I waited for a while to see if the sight would return and then I got lessons from the NCBI on how to use the cane and I haven’t looked back since. Now I can go up town on my own. It helped that I had my sight previously because now I can work out where buildings are and every day I’m trying to get around more. My ambition is to make it to my GP at the end of town by myself.”
Connie’s sense of humour kicks in again. “I was a bit of a novelty around town at first and people were offering to help me across the street, even when I didn’t want to cross, but that wore thin after a while.
“One fella actually thought the cane was a metal detector and he asked me was I searching for something. How could you not laugh at that and I just love it.
“Doors can be a bit of a problem and I think I was trying to get into Inch’s one morning instead of the beautician’s. I wouldn’t mind but he was closed. My neighbours around An Cladrach and people up town are brilliant and all you have to do is ask for assistance. They’ll help you.”
Her only major obstacle is trying to cross the Castlebar Road. “It would be such an advantage to everyone, and not just for me, if there was a traffic-calming measure somewhere around the church at the foot of the hill.
“I have to wait for the road to clear but even if a car stops another car might overtake and it can be very difficult to get across. The council are talking about putting one in it but so far it hasn’t happened.”
One thing is evident. Connie is the same Connie she always was and the happenings of 2005 haven’t changed her one iota. Visual impairment never dimmed her marvellous outlook on life. She still does the usual things like watching TV with the aid of the Sky box, texting, surfing the net, walking on Bertra, listening to music and going out to concerts whenever possible.
Rather than sit and bemoan her luck she challenged adversity and wrestled back control again. Better to light a candle than curse the dark is her attitude.
And humour is her antidote.

Angela Kyne and her guidedog ‘Flame’ enjoy a spring a stroll in Kilmaine.?
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR Angela Kyne and her guidedog ‘Flame’ enjoy a spring a stroll in Kilmaine.?Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Angela Kyne
ANGELA Kyne remembers the day well. “I was about ten and returning home from Mass in Kilmaine with my sister Claire and I walked into a tree on the roadside. My sight got progressively worse and at school I couldn’t always see the blackboard and I often copied from the girls sitting beside me.”
Many years and a succession of eye tests later she was eventually diagnosed with Retinis Pigmentosa. Married now with a grown-up family, and one grandchild, Angela lives in Cortoon, outside Kilmaine.
“The most difficult obstacle was learning to accept it but once I got over that I was fine. I had to give up work and I missed my colleagues, in particular.
“At first I could do the ordinary things, like bringing the kids to Ballycushion school and bringing their bags on the bike. But my sight got worse and now I’m down to about four per cent vision.”
With the help of her social worker, Ann Kenny, she finds it easier to cope with household chores. “Ann is great and she organises practical things for me. I can cook for myself now and I manage grand, except when Willie or the boys leave utensils in a different place to where they should be. Sometimes I think they do it for a bit of devilment.”
With the aid of her guide dog ‘Flame’ Angela has regained independence again.
“I did a course in the NCBI in Dublin and I made friends with people who had guide dogs. I contacted the Guide Dogs Association in Cork and they took me down there to familiarise me with the dog. They came here so as I could get used to the dog around my own area and places I go to like Kilmaine and Ballinrobe.”
‘Flame’ has given Angela a new sense of freedom. They work well as a team and he takes her around any obstacles. Her biggest difficulty is people distracting the dog. “They don’t realise it but when she’s working she shouldn’t be disturbed and I have to get her attention again and that can be difficult at times.”
She travels to Ballinrobe every Thursday on Marty Holian’s bus.
She visits the TACU on Main Street and enjoys a chat with staff and other visitors. With the aid of ‘Flame’ she uses the stairs rather than the lift. Other incidentals like going to the Ulster Bank, the chemist or the Valkenburg for lunch, she takes in her stride now.
“I went to see Beauty and the Beast and I go to plays and also the Eye Cinema in Galway where I use audio, and I can follow the story of the film. I love MWR and especially Michael Commins on Sunday and Wednesday nights.”
In Ballinrobe she finds the pedestrian crossing at the Ulster Bank a hindrance rather than a help. “If you were to choose one place in the town not to put a crossing that’s the spot you’d pick. Traffic comes at you from three directions there and cars from Abbey Street have to yield so they are accelerating approaching the crossing. It’s ridiculous and the engineers weren’t thinking of people who find it difficult to cross when they set it there.”
Angela is currently doing a FETAC Course in Ballindine. With ‘Flame’ she can now enjoy recreational strolls around Turin and Ballycushion.
By way of giving something back she does some charity walks and fund-raising for the Guide Dogs Association.
Because of a gift from Cork the flame burns bright for Angela again.