Partially blind by the age of six; completely blind by the age of 19. Now, with the help of his guide dog Hudson, a Nottinghamshire man has turned his life around. Jonathan Ashby takes a look at his inspirational journey.
A huge frame filled with family photographs hangs on the wall above the fireplace. However, 20-year-old Nathan Edge is no longer able to enjoy these. On Saturday, February 4 2014, he woke up with his world permanently plunged into darkness.
“It originally started when I was five,” says Nathan, as we settle down in his comfortable Mansfield home on Claymoor Close. “Out of nowhere my left knee was locked at 90 degrees. It was swollen and I had no movement in it.”
A year of hydrotherapy and an operation followed, however Nathan was diagnosed with juvenile chronic arthritis. The inflammation spread from his knee to the back of his eyes, leaving him with 20 per cent vision in his right eye and 15 per cent in his left before his seventh birthday.
His vision remained stable for 11 years, until an eye examination at the age of 18 showed a bleed at the back of the right eye which was making his sight slowly deteriorate. Two unsuccessful operations later and Nathan was left completely blind in his right eye. Shortly after, his left eye experienced the same problem. This time, rather than risk another operation and immediate and total sight loss, Nathan opted to leave it and let it run its course.
“We thought we might get five or six years out of it,” says Nathan, who lives with his father Mick, step-mum Michelle and pet pooch Hudson after moving from hometown Chesterfield in 2006. “However it all changed five months later on February 4 last year. On Friday evening everything was normal, then on Saturday everything was pitch black.
“It was tough to deal with. Although I was trying to accept that I knew it would go eventually, I still had all these plans, like travelling. So to lose it out of the blue…I wasn’t ready. I’ve never been the type of person that lets things beat me, but when it had all gone, I didn’t have any confidence to do anything.
“To lose it out of the blue…I wasn’t ready”
“I remember the Saturday where it went – I pretended I was ill in my room. First of all I was scared, but the hardest thing for me was how do I tell my parents – or anybody – that my sight had gone forever. To this day I don’t know how I did. I know there was a lot of tears, which has stuck in my mind, especially with my Dad – we’re blokes and don’t cry – but that day we did, and that’s something that will never go out of my memory.”
If it wasn’t for Hudson, who joined the Edge household in October 2013 shortly after the loss of vision in the right eye, Nathan says he may not have got through it.
“I thought my future had gone,” he explains. “When you’re stuck in your room, all you’ve got is time to think and all I was thinking about were the negatives. But I realised that Hudson was by my side the whole time, and there was this one morning about a month later where he’d jumped on the bed and nudged me. I don’t know what it was that morning, but everything changed. I called up every charity I could to get support, and ironically from then on I’ve never looked back.”
Since then, Nathan has appeared on the Alan Titchmarsh Show, acted as a public speaker for Guide Dogs, been the face for Guide Dogs nationally and won the National Guide Dogs Young Person’s Achievement award, however his passion lies in fundraising for Guide Dogs.
“The first big event I did was in September 2013 for the ‘name a puppy’ that Guide Dogs run,” says Nathan, who is an avid Mansfield Town fan. “You raise £5,000 and it pays for the first year of that guide dog’s training – which is the most important part. Around 40 of us walked from Mansfield to Chesterfield for the match, and we raised £3,500. It was my first big event, we raised a great amount and we won, so it was perfect. That was the point where I thought this is what I want to do.”
“That was the point where I thought this is what I want to do”
The additional £1,500 was raised six months and a couple of charity events later – however Nathan has not stopped there.
“I’ve signed up to name another puppy, and then there’s the big one which is the London marathon,” he says. “I was due to be doing it this year but I picked up an Achilles injury, so I deferred it for another year. The training is going well now though – I’ve set myself a target of £3,000, plus the £5,000 for the puppy, so I want to raise £8,000 by this time next year.”
Among Nathan’s support group is his father Mick, a delivery driver. “I can’t put into words how proud I am of him,” says the 51-year-old. “He’s turned every negative into a positive – it’s amazing how he copes. He’s gone above all expectations that you could imagine. For example, he’s got his 21st birthday coming up. He’s said he doesn’t want gifts – he just wants people to give Guide Dogs money. That’s the kind of person he is.”
Nathan’s fundraising efforts have been gratefully received by Guide Dogs charity. “Nathan is an exceptional young man,” says Kelly France, engagement officer for Guide Dogs Nottingham. “He’s always the first to be involved in our events, he’s keen and determined, and we feel very privileged to have him as part of our team.”
For Nathan, losing his sight has turned his life around.
“I’ve done things this last 18 months that I probably wouldn’t have done if I had sight,” he says. “It sounds strange but losing that last bit of sight is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”