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Out of The Ashes

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Geoff Fierce is Public Information Coordinator, National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality. He lives in Manitoba.

This is the story of my spiral into a life of disability and my rise out of the ashes, like the mighty Phoenix, on the road to recovery and a new outlook on life.

In October of 1992 I slipped on the ice getting out of my van, and within a few days strange things began happening to my body.

During almost a year of rapid decline, I went from walking on my own to using a homemade cane to one elbow crutch, two elbow crutches, and finally to a manual wheelchair. I underwent every scientific, medical test known to man, including muscle-nerve conduction tests where they stuck needles up and down my back and legs.

After over a year of testing and many discussions with the doctors, it was decided that I likely had multiple sclerosis.

By Christmas of 1994, a scooter had replaced the manual wheelchair. I finally ended up in a motorized wheelchair as my strength waned. Due to complications from what I thought at the time to be MS, I lost my sight in both eyes by the end of 1995. My hearing also deteriorated to the point where I now wear hearing aides in both ears. I was barely able to do any physical tasks. I felt trapped in a body that I didn't recognize at all and was certain that my life would never be the same again.

Something happened in late 1998 that changed my life as I then knew it, and gave me hope.

Shortly after experiencing a fall at home when transferring from one chair to another, I learned that I had broken my tailbone. My MS took a turn for the worse, and I was bed-ridden for the next five and a half weeks with very little feeling from the chest down. I could not move my legs or feel anything at all in either foot. This was normal for my left leg from the knee down, but not for my right leg or above the knee.

I did a lot of soul-searching and praying during this time, as I felt that I was going to spend the rest of my life bed-ridden and was not prepared.

Towards the end of the five and a half weeks, sensation and movement began to return in my legs. Not only did I get full recovery in my right leg, but the feeling had now returned to my left leg and foot as well. I spent the next six months in physiotherapy learning to walk again and strengthening the muscles that had deteriorated over the course of six years of inactivity.

I called the Guide Dog School in Florida where they were training a dog for me to work with my multiple disabilities, and was told that because I could now walk again, I could come get my Guide that autumn. By the end of September, I was back in Winnipeg with my new Guide/Hearing/Service Dog.

Sammy is a gentle giant of a Black Lab who is now almost six years old, and whom I have bonded within a way that I cannot describe.

Over time, my life changed drastically. My marriage of 26 years came to an end in 2002. Alone, I evaluated my life and the hand I had been dealt.

Around the time that my marriage ended, I thought the vision in my left eye began to improve. It slowly got better over the next few months. By January of 2003, I could see up to 40 feet with rather narrow tunnel vision. Today, distance has increased to a whopping 300 plus yards, with my peripheral vision increasing to almost eight inches around. I still see only shadows in dim light, but there is hope of further improvement in the left eye. I have had no return of vision in my right eye. I had surgery on both eyes for secondary glaucoma previously due to optic Neuritis from the MS, and that condition might have left some permanent damage to one or both eyes.

Only time will tell if my vision will improve, but I look toward a very bright future in faith.

Prior to an Australian holiday in 2003, I returned to the MS Clinic in Winnipeg. The neurologist told me that he thought others had misdiagnosed me and that, in fact, I had some kind of neurological illness that mirrored MS. He said it had run its course, and there were no longer any signs of it being with me.

I don't know what the future holds for me, but due to my disabilities I now look at life through different eyes.

I have worked extensively within the disability community over the past 12 years, volunteering on several committees and sitting on various boards. I have gained helpful insight in working with others who are disabled, and I bring my new-found knowledge to the surface in order to assist those around me who continue to strive for equality and happiness in their lives.

I have started back to work for the first time in over 12 years, contracting out as the Public Information Coordinator for the NFB:AE, where I hope to put my knowledge base to work to achieve both personal and business goals.

I have also met a remarkable woman whom I am marrying this summer. I look to a bright future with Marlene supporting me, as I do her, in all areas of our lives. I am inspired by the events of my life and feel that the past 12 years have taught me some valuable life lessons that I am now able to share with others in order that they too can meet all of their goals and expectations.