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Peter’s story – ‘My journey to regaining confidence’

You can grow in confidence by stepping outside your comfort zone. To reach your potential you need to challenge yourself. You might achieve things you never thought possible.

Peter stands next to his wife with his arm around her shoulder
Peter relied heavily on his wife Alana when he first lost his sight

This is the attitude of Peter Smirke, who’s 57, and lives in Waikiki with his wife. Peter has limited vision in just one eye. In recent months our team of therapists has really seen him flourish. VisAbility has a range of Therapy Services for clients. On World Sight Day, we’re sharing Peter’s story because it demonstrates the remarkable achievements he’s made.

Losing his sight and losing his job

Peter was a truck driver, regularly clocking up 800 kilometres day and night. In 2008 he noticed his vision was a bit foggy, but just thought his truck lights were dimmer because the vehicle was getting older.

Three years later, he went to sleep and woke up without sight in one eye and with limited vision in the other. The evening beforehand he’d had a bad headache.

I obviously didn’t go into work that day, and I’ve never worked since as the doctor said I was legally blind.

Peter Smirke
Peter has no hesitation going out on his own

The blood flow had been lost to his optic nerve. He’d also suffered a mini stroke behind the eyes.

“I’m not afraid to admit that I went downhill pretty quickly. I lost a job which I’d loved and more than that my independence. I kept falling over and knocking into things.”

He relied a great deal on his wife Alana, who was very supportive and drove him everywhere.

“I was not in a good way. I’d also had surgery on my back and was using a walking stick.’’

Peter began to withdraw into himself. What got him back on track he says was meeting the therapists from VisAbility.

Gaining confidence with support from therapists

Orientation and Mobility Therapist Anne-Sophie Larosa-Lesteven came to meet Peter to encourage him to use a mobility cane.

I told her I didn’t want to use the cane. I was so obstinate but she told me it would change my life and it has done.

Peter Smirke

Initially, Peter would break out in a sweat and become very anxious using public transport, but Anne-Sophie would spur him on and encourage him.

Occupational Therapist Jami Hardman introduced him to assistive technology options avilable to him.

Occupational Therapist Jaimi Hardman offers support with assistive technology

“Jaimi is fabulous because she is so supportive. I knew I had to build up my skills slowly and steadily and achieve small milestones every day, and that’s what we’ve done.’’

Learning about assistive technology

Peter now has an iPad and an iPhone and he says it’s opened up new possibilities for him.

“I use the QR codes at the bus stop, so I know when a bus is coming. I have a multitude of apps on my phone, in order to get out and about in the community. This newfound independence has allowed me to join a support group in Mandurah called Blind Spot for people with vision impairment.’’

Peter uses his iPhone for QR codes

VisAbility Physiotherapist Emma Bennett is encouraging him to swim to build up his strength and confidence.

“I have become a keen swimmer. Initially I kept thinking I’d bump into people and the pool walls but that hasn’t happened. I had meningitis last year, so swimming is helping me to improve my overall fitness.’’

Peter also has some new glasses. They have a blue filter and prevent the excruciating headaches he used to endure. Now he gets out and about on his own whenever he wants.

I remember I asked my wife to take me to the shops, so I could buy her a birthday present. That was embarrassing as she knew what I was buying her. Now I can go to the shops independently.

Peter Smirke

And if he has one piece of advice for others who may find themselves in a similar position, what would that be?

“You can’t buy self-confidence; you have to create it yourself. If you have the right attitude and the support you’ll achieve those things you’ve always wanted to do.’’