John’s story: “I lost my sight just as I was preparing for retirement”

John in his workout gear next to some exercise equipmentJohn Aitken is the picture of fitness working out at the Exercise Clinic at VisAbility. The 65-year-old has less than 10% sight but comes twice a week under the guidance of Kane Perris, Sport and Recreation Officer. John’s aim is to gain muscle mass, improve his posture and to challenge himself physically.

It’s marked contrast to 18 months ago when John, Broker Commissions Manager at Bankwest, was in a very different place.

“Last year was not a good year for me. I have always had poor vision in my right eye, but in 2018 I lost nearly all my vision in my left eye as well. It led to depression and anxiety,” explains John.

I was on the cusp of retirement, which as anyone knows is a time of great change, so imagine that shift occurring and then realising you’re going blind.

John Aitken
Former Bank Manager of Broker Commissions

Banking career

John has always had limited sight in his right eye.

“My mother contracted Rubella soon after she fell pregnant with me. There were no vaccinations back then so this may have been the cause of my poor eyesight but I’ll never really know. I’m also mildly deaf.”

In spite of losing his vision in his right eye, John managed to secure a good job in the bank rising to the position of Finance Manager of Broker Commissions at the headquarters of Bankwest in Perth.

“Not many people knew I was blind in that right eye. I had to turn my head around further when speaking directly to someone but it never held me back.”

Counting down to retirement

Around eighteen months before John was due to retire, he was at his computer screen one day when he thought his computer mouse had broken.

I was using this computer mouse and the mouse cursor on the screen disappeared. I called a colleague over who said – ‘it’s there’ – but I just couldn’t see it. That was the start of my problems as I realised I was losing my sight in the left eye as well.

John Aitken
Former Bank Manager of Broker Commissions

John was referred to a specialist who diagnosed optic neuritis – an inflammation that damages the optic nerve. To try to save the sight in the left eye he was put on a course of tablets and intravenous steroids to reduce the swelling.

“I was off work for nine months, fortunately I had income protection, but I didn’t like being in the house on my own with limited sight. My wife Sue was amazing because she cut back her hours to be with me so I’d be less anxious.”

Cruising into leisure time

The turning point for John came when he went on a three week Mediterranean cruise with Sue and some of their friends.

“Everyone was encouraging me to go, but I was very cautious because of the steps on a cruise ship. The sea passage itself can be rocky. I needn’t have worried as it was a great trip and I told myself that it was proof of my independence.’

But just as John was building up confidence, weeks after returning from his cruise, a bacterial infection struck in his right eye which had been damaged from birth.

“I ended up in hospital for two weeks. I was up day and night as I was given eye-drops every hour in my right eye. You can imagine I didn’t get much sleep.”

Staying active with limited sight

Although 2018 was one of the worst year’s he’s ever experienced, John doesn’t wallow in self-pity.

“I am now legally blind. In some ways the loss of my sight has been the making of me as I am now doing things I’ve never done before.”

“Yes, I’m pushing myself physically as well as mentally. Kane puts me through my paces. All those years of sitting at a desk, I’m now improving my strength and getting fitter,” John says enthusiastically.

“I’ve set myself a target to compete in the City to Surf event with my daughter next year. I want to remain in good health throughout my retirement and fitness has given me a focus,” he explains.

“When I got that diagnosis last year I felt I was trapped in a tunnel, but I have come through the other side. Things I dreamt about in retirement are still happening, I’m off to Queensland later this month and in April I’m going to Bali so I’m definitely moving on.”

If you’d like to learn more about the tailored programs VisAbility can design for you in the Sports and Recreation Services or if you’d like to use the Exercise Clinic regularly contact us on 1800 847 466 or visit our Group Programs page.