An Irvine veteran with sight loss is feeling elated after taking part in a Veteran Games event in Tel Aviv with the “life-changing” support of Scottish War Blinded.
Peter Ramsay says he felt honoured to be forward for the first ever Veteran Games and Conference in Israel by staff at the charity’s Hawkhead Centre, and has recently returned from his week-long adventure.
The former Gordon Highlanders infantryman, 50, has rare genetic eye condition retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which means he struggles to see in poor light and his peripheral and central vision are affected.
Peter was “devastated” to be medically discharged from service due to his diagnosis in 1991, and says he was feeling low before Scottish War Blinded entered his life.
But since he began attending Scottish War Blinded’s activity hub in Paisley last year, the dad-of-three says his confidence and happiness have improved hugely.
And he never thought it possible to ever attend such as the Veteran Games until he started receiving the charity’s “life-changing” support.
‘There is no current treatment for retinitis pigmentosa’
Peter, who is originally from Stevenston, said: “After I was medically discharged from the army it was a very low time. I was feeling down, I was always in the house.
“I had first noticed my sight loss in the army when I was on patrol at night. I kept getting lost and couldn’t see what I was doing, and that’s when they sent me to hospital and I found out I have RP.
“At the time, we didn’t know my mum was a carrier (it’s a hereditary condition). It was devastating. I couldn’t believe it.
“At that time, we had not heard of RP or really understood the future implications. On investigation we discovered our type of RP was passed from female carriers to males and that other older male family members had suffered sight loss through this disease.
“There is no current treatment for RP and it is a degenerative condition. At night time I can’t go out by myself, I can’t see in the dark, and in the summer I have to wear dark glasses as the glare from the sun gets me as well. I just get on with it and do my best.
“Since I joined Scottish War Blinded, if I could I’d be at the Hawkhead Centre every day of the week. It’s amazing.”
‘The Hawkhead Centre has been life changing for me’
Peter, who served with the Gordon Highlanders from 1988 to 1992, was urged to contact Scottish War Blinded by a friend, who explained he could be eligible for its free support.
Now attending the Hawkhead Centre twice a week with fellow veterans with sight loss, Peter says he has made many friends and thoroughly enjoys getting to engage with his passion for cooking and sport with the staff’s support.
“It’s life changing,” Peter explained.
“It makes a big difference to have other veterans with sight loss there – you can talk with folk who are going through the same kind of thing and they are always there to help you, even when you’re feeling down they’ll budge you up again.
“I love the skills kitchen, it’s a good laugh. I love cooking but at home, I was struggling. In the skills kitchen they let you get on with it and watch over. I’ve learned recipes there and brought them home.
“I do archery, bowls, and I’ve done sailing as well. I’m also working on my fitness at the centre’s gym – the equipment is easy to use and the staff always watch over and make sure you’re not cheating!
“The staff are first class. You feel like you’ve known them all your life and even the other Scottish War Blinded members.”
A once in a lifetime experience
It was Hawkhead Centre Officers Lorraine Bruce and Abbie Hocking who approached Peter with the opportunity to apply for the Veteran Games and Conference.
He attended the event from May 26 to May 31, which was hosted at Beit Halochem’s rehabilitation centres in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and took his mother along as his guest.
Putting his fitness to the test in the cross fit activities across the week for the British veterans’ team, Peter met with wounded veterans from across the UK and Israel, and even had the opportunity to explore the country’s historical sites and exhibitions as part of a packed schedule.
And he says the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience has shown him just how far he’s come since he started at the Hawkhead Centre.
“I was quite shocked to be asked, it was an honour to be asked to go,” Peter said. “Lorraine and Abbie thought the break would help me after I lost my dad recently.
“Scottish War Blinded gave me funding for my flight down to London, so I could fly to Tel Aviv. That was a huge help.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I went to places I thought I’d never go, it was unbelievable.
“At the opening ceremony I just thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m here’. I met guys who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I took part in the cross fit activities. It was great. Everyone was cheering each other on, that felt good. Everyone tried their best.
“I think the highlight was meeting different folk and meeting the Israeli veterans as well.
“If you’d said to me a few years ago I’d be going to Israel and doing all these activities I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Looking to the future
With various pieces of low vision aids and specialist equipment given to Peter free of charge from Scottish War Blinded too, including a talking clock, talking watch, specialist lighting and a Synapptic Phone, Peter is enjoying his independence again.
He said: “Scottish War Blinded has changed my life, every bit of it. My confidence is way up now. I’m a lot happier.
“I’m hoping to go down to the Cenotaph Parade for Remembrance Sunday this year with Scottish War Blinded as well.
“The stuff you can do with the charity is life-changing. I would say to any veterans with a sight condition to try it. Just go for it.”
Rebecca Barr, Director of Scottish War Blinded, commented: “All of us at Scottish War Blinded have been delighted to see how far Peter has come along since he started at the Hawkhead Centre. We were very happy to support him in his journey to the Veteran Games.
“The staff at the Hawkhead Centre, as well as at our activity hub in West Lothian – the Linburn Centre – together with our Outreach team across Scotland, are dedicated to helping our veterans engage with a huge variety of activities, whatever their interests.
“As Peter’s experiences show, being given the opportunity to reconnect with your passions, despite sight loss, really can be life-changing.”
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 and to refer a veteran to the charity, call 0800 035 6409 or get in touch online at www.scottishwarblinded.org.