'I built a new life': Tipperary Councillor on adapting to 90% sight loss

A Tipperary Councillor and Paralympian who lost most of his sight has described how he adapted to...

10.40 7 Nov 2020

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'I built a new life': Tipperar...

'I built a new life': Tipperary Councillor on adapting to 90% sight loss


10.40 7 Nov 2020

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A Tipperary Councillor and Paralympian who lost most of his sight has described how he adapted to life with just 10% vision.

Peter Ryan was 20 years old when a routine eye test for contact lenses led to a diagnosis of a degenerative condition.

He has since been elected as a County Councillor for Tipperary and represented Ireland in cycling in the Paralympics in Rio in 2016.


However, Peter described how in the first 12 months after losing his central vision he had to adapt to "losing his identity".

Almost 250,000 people in Ireland are living with sight loss, 75-80% of which is preventable.

Fighting Blindness is hosting a public engagement day today for Retina 2020, which is an opportunity for people with a vision impairment to hear directly from experts of the advances being made.

Speaking on The Hard Shoulder yesterday, Peter explained how he discovered he would lose 90% of his vision.

He said: "I have a condition called Leber hereditary optic neuropathy, which was a bit of a game-changer for me.

"Living in an able-bodied world, fully sighted, doing just all the usual things, working in construction, playing sport.

"Long story short, I thought I needed contact lenses but it transpired out to be a lot more.

"I went for an eye test in March 2010 and from that I got sent as an emergency measure to Waterford A&E and that's where the journey started for me."

Peter said he started to notice his sight was deteriorating through "really innocuous stuff", like playing hurling when the ball was becoming harder to see in the distance.

He said: "There was this one game where I was just making mistakes, I was playing to a decent standard, I played for Tipp when I was younger.

"Then these mistakes had me second-guessing myself but it was enough to say, look you might need contact lenses.

"I had glasses for driving so I was kind of in that world anyway."

He said that when he went for his eye test, there was a blur in one eye which turned out to be a degenerative condition.

He added: "I had to be tested inside out, upside down for what it transpired to be but then eventually over the space of the next nine to 14 months I was going to lose my central vision in both eyes.

"That kind of leaves me in a position where I only have peripheral vision."

'Losing your identity'

Peter continued: "For the first 12 months, I was losing my eyesight and that's essentially losing your identity.

"We have no concept of how much we're using our eyesight until it starts going on us.

"There was a lot of appreciation for what I did have, and even now, that 10% that I have, I have a lot of gratitude for because I'm fighting for that 10% of independent and I'm maximising that to its best.

"Your peripheral vision is probably good for a metre radius, so it's a very small world I'm living in.

"If you start naming the things you can't do when your central vision is gone, it's a long list.

Peter said his whole world had to change and he had to "become a new person" when he lost his sight.

He said: "The reality is that its the simplicity that you missed.

"I was lucky enough, I togged out in Croke Park, I played in Nolan Park in an All Ireland final, I did all these cool things but it's not that [that you miss].

"It's going out and having a few pucks with your mates, or the dressing room environment, even pouring a cup of tea can be awkward.

"It's a direct consequence of losing your sight, and you feel stupid, you feel down, you feel isolated.

"It just affects everything that you do, you could walk past your mother in the supermarket, that's a really disheartening phenomenon that you can't explain to people."

'We deal in stereotypes'

Peter said it took "three or four months" to try and get a diagnosis which was "an arduous process".

He said: "I was told two things, that you won't go fully blind, and you can't give it to your children.

"I was 20 so there wasn't a crazy amount of solace taken in those two things.

"Because it's degenerative, some days you're trying to live with it and you're trying to get on, but you're living in your head."

He added: "Sometimes I wished I could get a bang on the head and fast track to the finish line because you're trying to learn and adapt.

"But then in a week's time, the way you just learned it is gone, or the range of vision you had is gone worse.

"Trying to reach out and talking to people wasn't a concept I was able to do, even identifying as being visually impaired, you're projecting, what does this mean, what does being blind.

"We kind of deal in stereotypes, I had a picture of what a blind man was and what it meant for me, and it was so different to the life I had.

"I tell people, comparison is the thief of joy, and I was just flat out comparing to my old life and the way I used to do things.

"I had zero acceptance for what was happening."


Peter said it took him three years to come to terms with his sight loss and that he "essentially had to build a new life".

While he is in a good place now, he wants to highlight the fact that there are supports available for other people who are experiencing sight loss.

He said "one of the strongest facets" of his life has been sport, which led to his participation in the Rio Paralympics.

He added: "I went for a trial in cycling and started just enjoying it, and before I knew it, conversations were happening around going to Rio.

"Fast forward, I went to the Games in Rio and about ten or 12 World Championships at this stage and I'm in training for Tokyo.

"When I talk about the past, it's very raw and it's very real and I don't want to dismiss that because I'm in a good place.

"But the reason I'm talking to you is for the families that are back in that place, for those individuals, and I think the message needs to be out there that there are supports for them."

'I built a new life': Tipperary Councillor on adapting to 90% sight loss

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Main image: Tipperary Councillor Peter Ryan. Picture: Peter Ryan via Twitter

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