Vincent Mulligan is a man who has overcome all of his obstacles, regardless of what has been thrown at him.
At only 26, when he lost his sight due to diabetes, the Wexford resident witnessed his whole life being taken away overnight.
‘I woke up one day and couldn’t see very clearly,’ explained Vincent, who is originally from Kilmuckridge. ‘I panicked and went to the hospital where they told me that I had diabetic retinopathy.’
In the following months, Vincent received laser treatment and an operation on his right eye, both of which were unsuccessful. As a result, he found himself completely blind on one side.
‘The doctors then concentrated on my left eye and stabilised it with laser treatment,’ he said. ‘I am registered blind in that eye too but I can see light and can read or watch television if I readjust myself.’
It was not only sight loss that Vincent had to learn to cope with. As a qualified electrician, Vincent was forced to come to terms with the fact that he would no longer be able to continue in his profession. In the beginning, he found this difficult to accept.
‘I was feeling sorry for myself for months,’ explained Vincent.
This wasn’t the first period of hardship in Vincent’s life. Only a year previously, he fell from scaffolding while working abroad, an accident which left him in a coma.
‘When I woke up to find the tubes in my throat, I panicked and pulled on them,’ he said. ‘This caused a leak in my throat but I didn’t know this so I went back to work.’
One week later, Vincent was wiring tunnels in Paris when he began experienced breathing difficulties.
‘I jumped into the car and drove myself to hospital, which probably wasn’t the best thing to do,’ he laughed. ‘I had to get a throat operation which went well but the whole event had affected my body. I couldn’t speak for a while and had to learn how to walk again.’
This physical trauma coupled with Vincent’s diabetes eventually led to his sight loss. For the young man, this was the final straw.
‘The sight loss affected me in ways that I thought were life-ending,’ he said.
Thankfully, a family member introduced Vincent to the National Council for the Blind (NCBI). He was put in touch with support worker Michael Benson and for the first time in several years, began to feel hopeful about his future.
‘They encouraged me to do a computer course and this completely opened up my world,’ said Vincent. ‘I realised that, although I may not be able to do practical work anymore, I am capable of other things. So I turned my attention to learning.’
Vincent didn’t enjoy school as a child and left at the age of 16 to do an apprenticeship. However, through working with Michael, he was persuaded to give studying another go.
‘Michael told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I told him that I wanted to do what he did – to empower people and encourage those in unfortunate situations,’ he smiled.
The pair researched numerous colleges until they came across a course in Applied Social Studies in IT Carlow’s Wexford campus.
‘They took me in straight away which is an important thing to highlight,’ said Vincent. ‘People with disabilities can get into college and be supported while they are there.’
Vincent’s four years in college were anything but easy. His vision impairment made college life incredibly difficult, especially when it came to reading books and completing assignments. Yet, aided by some special equipment and Aidan Barry from the NCBI, he managed to secure a 2:1 degree.
‘They were the most difficult years of my life, but definitely the most rewarding,’ he said. ‘I suppose when you are interested in something, you will do well.’
Following college, Vincent had another challenge to face: finding a job. For him, the key thing was to be optimistic.
‘I tend to be quite positive and do well in interviews anyway. Though, I am fortunate as I am on the right side of vision,’ he said. ‘I see so many others with bad vision impairments who have more talent and ability than me yet, are unable to find work.’
As a man who has experienced sight loss first-hand, Vincent believes it is important for employers to recognise the special skills that the visually-impaired have.
‘I can pick up on hints to tell how a person is feeling, but I couldn’t do that before. I was a typical man!’ he laughed.
Vincent now uses these skills to help others. At present, he works in a residential unit for men with autism, a role that he finds ‘really rewarding.’
‘My job requires me to educate, support and look after their needs in society,’ he explained. ‘I give people hope and show them that their situation can improve.’
Vincent’s own unfortunate experiences have given him this newfound positivity which he enjoys passing on to others.
‘It has made me appreciate the little things in life,’ he said. ‘I used to work hard so that I could get things for myself. That doesn’t really matter. What’s important is having people that you can depend on.’
Soon, Vincent will be welcoming a new addition to his life who will be dependent on him. In October, Vincent and his wife Labhaoise will welcome their first child into the world. The due date is October 1, which also happens to be Vincent’s birthday. According to the father-to-be, the couple are nervous, yet excited.
‘I suppose we’re like every couple though,’ he smiled. ‘It’s going to be the best birthday present ever!’
(First published in the Wexford People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.wexfordpeople.ie/lifestyle/a-wexford-man-with-a-happy-future-in-his-sights-31360318.html)