“My life revolved around my sight – or so I thought”

Before my sight loss I was a mechanical engineer, mathematician, computer expert, health and safety consultant and trainer. I have always been very sporty and I loved the outdoor life; playing rugby, running, swimming and walking. I also became a world referee and serious player for Underwater Hockey (Octopush) and was a keen sea and fly fisherman.

As you can imagine my life revolved around being able to see.

Then in 1998 I fell in to a coma. No-one could understand why I was dying. Thirty days later I emerged but I couldn’t see as my optic nerves and the part of my brain that controls sight were severely damaged. The diagnosis was MELAS (mitochondrial encephalomyopathy lactic acidosis with stroke-like episodes), a progressive, degenerative and fatal disease.

Image of David Poyner sitting at a beach and looking thoughtfully into the distance.

I quickly realised that I needed my life back and – more importantly – I had to find a sport. I was introduced to blind archery and really enjoyed it.

That was also the time I found Henshaws. Their support made a huge difference to me and with them I started to learn Braille. It wasn’t easy as I had little feeling in my hands due to nerve damage, but I wanted to be able to write. I needed to touch type to be able to organise my life and Henshaws IT sessions taught me how to do that. They enabled me to take notes, store phone numbers, addresses and keep a diary, all on a computer.

I also became a founder member of the Adult Social Group at Henshaws. We enjoy activities like ten pin bowling, quizzes and board games, and meals out and it’s made a big difference to my life.

Unfortunately, I had another 30 day coma in 2001 and again emerged with little feeling in my hands. Too ill to leave the house, I did my Braille course with Henshaws by email and passed all the exams. At this stage I was advised by my Doctors to give up work as excess stress could put me into another coma – very frustrating for a workaholic!

So I became involved in blind sport and its organisation. This was a real life line for me. I also went back to college and qualified in reflexology, nutrition, Swedish body massage, sports massage and Reiki.

David practising archeryI became chair of a club for blind archers, chair of the national body for blind archery and a member of Archery GB’s disability committee. In fact archery became a mainstay in my life, and I even developed assistive equipment to help blind archers, which I make in my workshop. I worked hard at archery becoming national champion and shooting for Team GB if funds have been available. Recently I have been trying to get blind archery recognised and into the Paralympics – and we should know very soon. Fingers crossed!

However, I have experienced more challenges through kidney failure, and while on  dialysis I had a brain haemorrhage caused by Heparin. For a while I lost the use of my arms, hands and speech. Jane, my partner of then 2 years had seen enough and, finding she was a match, gave me one of her kidneys in December 2010. We married on December 5th 2013.

I have managed to continue walking with friends, who take it in turns to walk in front and let me know of any obstacles. I was very pleased when Henshaws set up their Blind Walking Group last year, Henshaws Hikers. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our days out and it’s been great walking with other visually impaired walkers.

In 2013 I went fly fishing for the first time in 16 years and quickly realised that one doesn’t lose the skill to do these things just because you’ve lost your sight (although knot tying is a bit slower).

I have achieved a huge amount since losing my sight, most of which I would have never thought possible for a blind person before I became one, but Henshaws really helped me to fight for my independence. Independence is what matters and I’m proof we don’t always have to ask for help.

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David Poyner is a Henshaws service user and a member of Henshaws Hikers and the evening social group. He is also a keen sportsman and British Blind Archery Champion.
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