Dennis Sheppard was 16 when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. At the time, the Lark Harbour man had lost about 50 per cent of his eyesight.
“Then it stabilized,” the now 46-year-old man said recently.
So like any other young person, when Sheppard finished high school he went on to complete a higher education. He trained as a carpenter and, with partial sight, was able to work for a number of years in house framing and industrial construction in Newfoundland, Ontario, Alberta and Nova Scotia. He even did a stint at Bull Arm.
But in more recent years he’s been unable to work at all.
In 2003, his disease once again flared and he lost total sight in his left eye. He still had partial sight in his right, but that decreased gradually over the years.
About a year and a half ago he was left with just one to two per cent vision, “Just enough to know if it was night or day.”
Then one day in the fall of 2014 he woke in darkness and was completely blind. From time to time he would have flashes of light, colours and vision, which gave a slight hope that his sight would return.
Last spring those random colour and vision flashes stopped too, and he was completely in the dark.
As the loss of his sight was gradual, Sheppard had been continually learning to adapt. Still, the total loss meant more challenges.
“Oh my God, it’s very frustrating,” he said. “It’s the part of learning to do the day-to-day things. Learning to do everything all over again. It’s starting from scratch.”
With a determination and great support from his family — wife Barbara and daughter Bobbi — Sheppard doesn’t let his blindness keep him down.
“If you give up, that’s it,” he said. “The most important part is staying positive.”HHH
In 2014 he joined the council in Lark Harbour.
He said he always had an interest in politics and he liked the community aspect of it.
Sometimes his lack of sight can be frustrating being a part of the council and dealing with town issues, but he learns as he goes and has the full support of the council and town employees.
Navigating through life got a little easier recently when Sheppard was matched with a guide dog.
He said three years ago he did some training with the CNIB.
“With their help it made everything possible for me,” he said. “Then you had to be determined to do it.”
It was the CNIB that put the idea of getting a guide dog into his head. He applied with the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind last October and got a call in April.
“They had a perfect match for me.”
So he travelled to Ontario and trained with a two-and-a-half-year-old black Labrador named Kenzie. The pair returned home May 27.
“Day-to-day life has been an enormous difference,” he said. “Getting out and interacting with the community and being able to have the freedom to be out around the community.”
He said Kenzie is a very intelligent dog and can also be playful, but when he puts on her harness it’s all about the work.