Westmuir veteran with sight loss overcoming 'isolation' with support of vision impairment charity

Press Release | 10/06/2019

A veteran who has battled “isolation” due to his vision impairment is now reconnecting with his friendship network and much-loved model aircrafts after receiving support from a sight loss charity.

Sam Alexander, 82, was diagnosed with eye condition macular degeneration three years ago, and following a bleed in his right eye last year now has very poor sight.

The aeroplane enthusiast builds his own flying model aircraft from scratch and has participated on the model flying circuit since the 1950s. Before his diagnosis he regularly drove across the country for racing meetings.

The Westmuir-based RAF veteran was left felling “very low” and “isolated” after losing his driving license due to his poor vision, which cut him off from socialising in person with his racing friends – many of whom are based in England.

But since becoming a Scottish War Blinded member, the charity has provided him with specialist equipment and one-on-one support to help the veteran get back on track.

Sam, originally from Ayr, said: “Before I joined Scottish War Blinded I was feeling very low. Sight loss means you can’t do all the things you could do before – not because of the blindness but the way it affects you.

“You lose your friends if you lose your mobility because I’ve got friends all over the country. When you can’t drive a car, everything becomes a problem. You’re limited to where you can go.

“With my sight loss, the biggest problem that I had was I was losing confidence in myself. At the time I felt very insecure.

“I was quite nervous about going outside on my own. I was also worried because I knew I couldn’t protect myself.

As Sam’s sight has deteriorated, the retired farmer also experienced symptoms of Charles Bonnet Syndrome – a common condition among people with vision loss which causes visual hallucinations as the brain reacts to loss of sight.

Sam explained: “I was seeing pictures I wasn’t looking at just while I was walking around. It was most peculiar. Seeing table cloths on the table that weren’t there and forget-me-nots falling down a waterfall. There were so many things.

“It was worrying at the start. It’s settled down now.

“My left eye has taken over the work of the right eye. I’ve got an awful problem with bruising because I walk into things I can’t see on my right-hand side. You can’t tell exactly how close you are to something.

“You’ve got to make allowances for it – I suppose that will come with time.

Sam became a member of Scottish War Blinded last year after discovering he was eligible for support from the charity as a veteran with sight loss.

Sam served with the Royal Air Force as a Senior Aircraftsman for his national service from 1955 to 1957, and saw active service in Aden during the Suez Canal crisis.

Now supported by Scottish War Blinded Outreach Worker Carole Martin, Sam has been given a specialist ‘Synapptic’ tablet and CCTV reader – an electronic magnifier which projects onto a large screen.

The accessible equipment, provided free of charge, now means he can now keep up-to-date with model aircraft forums, racing meetings and aircraft magazines.

It helps him to keep in the loop with his wide-spread racing friends from his own home.

Sam said: “I’ve now got a tablet – I didn’t even know you could get these. 

“On a normal computer I was struggling to see letters, but the tablet is fine because the letters are quite big and it speaks to you too. That’s amazing.

“I can now visit forums with videos of meetings for members that can’t get out anywhere. I can start connecting, which is great. It’s wonderful.

“Scottish War Blinded have helped me to be able to read things. Everything has to be enlarged now for me to read, so I’ve got the CCTV reader. It has been so helpful to me.

“I felt more comfortable after Carole’s first visit – you felt like you belonged to some sort of system. 

“Carole brought me various magnifiers. I’ve got a light from Scottish War Blinded too which has been a great boost. She got me a pair of TV glasses, that was handy.”

Sam’s wife, June, who cannot drive, says she has seen a big difference in her husband since the couple started receiving support from Scottish War Blinded.

“Losing the car has been the biggest thing – you feel totally isolated,” she explained.

“Lack of independence is the worst of the lot.

“What a difference the CCTV has made as well – he can keep up to date with everything.

“We’ve been totally overwhelmed with all the kindness. We couldn’t have afforded to have bought all of this equipment.

“It’s certainly improved Sam’s mood.”

“Feeling isolated is a big thing,” Sam added.

“You’ve got so many things going through your mind that you wanted to do but can’t do. Things you’d never think about before losing your sight.

“With Scottish War Blinded you feel you’re part of an organisation which can help you if you need it. It’s a cushion. I can just pick up the phone and ask Carole about anything and she’ll tell me.

“It’s essential to have that help because you’re absolutely lost without it.

“When you start losing your sight, other things become more important than they were before. I feel a lot better now.”

Scottish War Blinded gives free support to ex-servicemen and women of all ages, no matter if they lost their sight during or after service.

For more information about the support offered to veterans with sight loss in the area and to refer a veteran to the charity, call 0800 035 6409 or get in touch online at www.scottishwarblinded.org.