Vision Mates needed

Dave Mathieson
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Assistance, companionship for the blind go a long way, Amherst man says

AMHERST – Eight years ago JJ Stevens lost his vision during radiation treatment for brain cancer.
“I was in denial for many years,” said Stevens, who lives in Amherst. “It’s only in the last two years I got into the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) stuff that I’ve become more active. I wish I had done that a lot sooner.”
Before cancer, the 38-year-old took his health for granted.
“I was 29 and everything was going great,” he said. “I had a career going, money was rolling in, and then one day, bam, I had headaches for five days, I collapsed on the floor and next thing I know I was in the hospital taking cancer treatment.
“The radiation caused bleeding in the retina, which creates scar tissue,” Stevens said. “I have 10 per cent vision in one eye. That 10 per cent is at a distance but up close I can’t see anything at all.”
It was only two months ago that Stevens finally received a clean bill of health.
“I had a PET scan and it showed no cancer cells in my body, so I guess that means I’m cured, but I was blinded along the way.”
The clean bill of health has given Stevens a new lease on life.
“I realize there’s no help with my blindness, and now that I have good results from the cancer I realize I have to deal with it,” he said. “I could be around another 40 years, I have to do something with my life and be self-sufficient.”
Upon entering Stevens’s home, one is struck by two things. It is very neat, and he has lots of sports memorabilia on his walls, including several hockey jerseys.
 “I’ve become more of a baseball fans since I became blind,” said Stevens. “Because of the nature of the game, baseball announcers can paint a clearer picture of what’s happening than hockey announcers are able to.”
The neatness helps him navigate his home.
“I’m very organized. I keep the cupboards squared away,” he said. “Everything has to be put back in its place or I may never find it again.”
Little mishaps can cause problems.
“If there’s something in the house that needs to be fixed I can’t see what I’m doing,” said Stevens. “I hit my TV once and knocked it off channel four to operate the satellite and it took me forever to get it back on.”
Helping with the little things is why Stevens hopes to find a Vision Mate, which is a Canada-wide CNIB program where a volunteer helps a visually-impaired person a few times a week or more.
One major area Stevens needs help is with his mail.
“I missed a dentist appointment because they sent me a letter and I couldn’t read it,” he said. “Also, my property taxes were overdue. They sent me four or five letters but I couldn’t read the paper work.”
The former grocery store manager can no longer make his way around a grocery store.
“When I go grocery shopping I can’t tell what’s on the shelves,” said Stevens. “I can’t tell if it’s a can of dog food or a can of food for myself.”
More than anything, Stevens said the biggest challenge is the isolation that comes with being blind.
“I have a cat here. Willow. I’ve had her a year and a half. I got her at the L.A. Animal Shelter,” he said. “But it would be nice to have someone to talk to, just some human companionship once in a while.”
The Vision Mate program was started in 2010.
“The CNIB needs help getting volunteers, but really it’s John who needs help,” said CNIB co-ordinator for volunteer services Mark McIntosh. “Here is someone in the community who has a challenge accomplishing every day tasks and came to CNIB to find a Vision Mate volunteer to tackle those tasks.”
For more information, or if you want to become a volunteer, contact McIntosh at 1-800-563-2642

JJ Stevens pours his coffee with the help of a level detector that beeps when his cup is full. The Amherst resident was rendered blind by cancer treatments eight years ago.

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Recent comments

  • Legally Blind person
    January 17, 2012 - 07:47

    As a person who is legally blind, i can understand how JJ is experiencing life. On a positive note, he did beat cancer so that has to be something for him to feel positive about. My only question is where is the family help here? I wish JJ all the best and hope he achieves what he wished for. God Bless.