The Will to Thrive: Meet Robert

Robert Edwards remembers the sound of the screeching tires as the moment when he finally admitted he was going blind. The now 53-year-old was riding his bicycle through an intersection three years ago when a car suddenly stopped and the driver yelled, “What, are you blind?!”

“I said yes, walked my bike home and never rode it again,” Robert said. “That’s when I knew I needed help.”

Robert smiles for a selfie; he's wearing a black cap and black jacket

Robert Edwards

Robert was 350 pounds when he was diagnosed with diabetes at age 27. He had started to notice very minor vision loss depending on his blood sugar level, but he was focused on losing weight. He got down to 185 pounds, corrected his diabetes and continued his career in the painting field.

But in 2017, he stepped on a nail that infected his foot so badly, he had to have part of his leg amputated. That’s when his vision entered a steep decline, but he was focused on learning how to live with a prosthetic leg.

“I hadn’t gone to doctors for my vision loss because in my head I wasn’t blind,” Robert said. “But really, I was pretty much there.”

For several months, Robert refused to wear his prosthetic leg. He wheeled himself everywhere, sometimes two miles a day. One day a man at his amputee support group encouraged him to wear his prosthetic leg whether he was walking or not. He not only started wearing it, he began walking everywhere, beginning with a mile or two a day. He now walks up to 10 miles a day.

He also learned to ride his bike again by practicing on a stationary bike. Yet as his movement improved, his eyesight continued to decline. After the bicycle incident, he was diagnosed with a detached retina. His left eye is now completely dark, and his right eye only has 20% vision.

He could no longer work as a painter because he could not climb ladders. He lives with his brother and nephew, who he had worked with, and they would leave each morning while he stayed home with the dogs surrounded by the paint equipment he could no longer use.

“The hardest part was seeing them go off to work and then come home, and I would be excited to see them and do something, but they were tired,” Robert said. “I started feeling like I was one of the dogs. And I was getting really good at falling down, so I didn’t want to walk.”

Fortunately, a good friend who had relatives with vision loss took Robert out to dinner and told him about Society for the Blind. In January 2023, Robert joined our Core program in full force, taking all four Core classes at the same time so he could feel like it was a more immersive experience. His teachers gave him extra assignments at his request. He even built a Braille alphabet board for Society for the Blind.

His mobility instructor suggested he practice using his white cane to the corner of his street and back, so he did that every day for a week – his instructor exclaimed, “Wow, no one ever does their homework like that!”

Robert credits his grown daughter Sydnie for being his advocate through his journey of losing his leg and his vision, as well as his decision to stop drinking.

“Sydnie has done so much for me,” Robert said. “She really sometimes flipped roles and became like a parent and voice of reason.”

He also is grateful for his service dog, Bruce, who he calls his “125-pound baby,” and his faith in God, for helping him get through the dark times.

When he initially joined Society for the Blind, he hoped to return to the painting field as an instructor for painting companies who wanted employees to learn how to sell paint and understand its molecular structure. Now he hopes to work at Society for the Blind and is actively engaged as a volunteer in our CareersPLUS and music programs.

“I just can’t get enough of Society for the Blind,” Robert said. “I show up an hour early, and that never happened when I went to school or worked somewhere before. But I’ve always pushed myself. When I started in the paint field, I was a delivery driver, and eight months later I was assistant manager.”

Robert Edwards sits in a large shell chair; his granddaughter leans over to give him a kiss.

Robert loves spending time with his granddaughter (pictured here).

He also hopes to become a volunteer in our new Braille Production and Training Program. He has tasked himself with watching YouTube videos about the Braille machines and is working on getting certified in fixing them.

Robert still has other effects from having been diabetic, including kidney failure, so he goes to dialysis three times a week two miles from his house – but he walks there and back. He is hoping to organize a 5K fundraiser for Society for the Blind called Run, Walk or Roll, and secure backing from people he knows from the paint industry and amputee supply companies.

“Society for the Blind got me up off the couch and back into society, so I want to give back,” Robert said. “I feel like they’re a family there. I’m a pretty strong-willed person, but depression runs thick, and they gave me my will back.”