John has had to be strong to cope with blindness

PUBLISHED: 08:54 09 July 2008 | UPDATED: 22:02 15 June 2010

JUST over three years ago, John Barrington Rowell collapsed on his bathroom floor. When he came round, five minutes later, he was blind. Permanently.

JUST over three years ago, John Barrington Rowell collapsed on his bathroom floor. When he came round, five minutes later, he was blind. Permanently.Within those minutes he had lost both his sight and his sense of smell due to the destruction of nerve endings behind his eyes.But the truth only hit the Seaton man - and his friends and family - two months later when he was registered as blind."It was scary. At 10.20 I had 20/20 vision. At 10.25 I was totally blind," said John, of Mead Way."Every day things changed: every pace became a mile, every kerb became a cliff. I no longer had the perception of height or length."I only came to terms with it when I was registered as blind. Then I had to accept it wasn't going to go away."His life has changed forever and things he once took for granted he now longs for.He said: "I will miss seeing my family growing up. Seeing lights at Christmas and all the festivities, and the smiles on my nieces' and nephews' faces when they open their presents."Things I used to love doing, like driving, DJing and photography, I just can't do anymore."However, there is one thing he has lost which he hopes to get back again: his independence.John attended a two-year course at college to learn every day living skills. He also has numerous gadgets to help him cope with an array of tasks from making tea to cooking to reading his e-mails.One of the founding members of the Axe Valley Runners in 1987, John is not a man to sit back and let others do things for him."I don't want to be molly-coddled," he said. "Having other people do everything for me wasn't going to be me. I wanted to push on and push forward. "You need to be strong to deal with blindness - and be an extrovert. A lot of people actually need a lot more help than they're given. You have to ask for things you are entitled to."John said he wants to push for disabled rights - not just for him - but others in a similar situation. Currently living off benefits, John would eventually like to be re-employed and gain ultimate independence, both physically and financially.He said: "As a result of my blindness, I had to sell up my DJing business and my day time job. Obviously, my finances have spiralled downwards."It's the old adage that you can't put a disabled person into employment, and employers fear they have to spend more money. But with the organisation Access to Work, equipment and facilities are put in place so that an unsighted person can do the same as a sighted person to a certain degree. My goal is to hopefully work again."In the meantime, John wants to educate other people about the affects of blindness and encourage better understanding of the condition. After overhearing a mother tell her child not to speak to him - fearing he would become aggressive - he is visiting schools in the area in the hope of educating adults through the children.And, while he finds people in Seaton generally very helpful, he believes more awareness is needed."I sometimes have people walk by and say 'hello John' and carry on," he said. "I don't know who they are! And then other times they say 'it's me'. I knew 250,000 people called 'me' at college."Although hopeful that stem cell research will find a cure in the future, he believes he must learn to live with his blindness until that happens.He said: "Maybe in 10 to 15 years they will find a cure. But, for now, my world is darkness and I have to be happy with that. I have to live for now.

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