Byron's dream was to be a pro football player. He was living in Europe, playing for the semi-pro Spanish team in Madrid. As he tells it, "I was living the black man's dream; football, Europe, looking at the Pros in the States. Then I had my yearly physical."
It was at that physical that Byron failed an eye exam and later learned that he suffers from sarcoidosis, a rare disease in which abnormal collections of inflammatory cells (granulomas) form as nodules in many organs of the body. Within just a few months Byron's eyesight was failing him. In less than two years he was totally blind.
Moving to Maryland so that he could receive medical attention and medication from John Hopkins University, Byron lived with relatives and had to hire people to help him do everyday tasks. A few months ago Byron moved into a small apartment by himself. He says that it isn't in a good neighborhood and he is lonely, but can't afford to live in a safer place.
He speaks about loss, and what it has been like for him, trying to live with the disease. Tears well as he explains that he once had a wife, a budding carrier in football, and the ability to take care of himself and an entire life ahead. But he is hopeful. The medications have been working, he can make out shapes and sometimes colors. "I wake up everyday and I believe in my heart that the meds are going to work. It is the only way."Byron explains that he has learned to 'see' differently. He 'sees' the energy people give off, by the way they speak, and treat others.
Blindness hasn't taken his ability to laugh and recognize that he still has so much to give. "I have to keep positive. I just keep moving, even if I don't see where I'm going."
A month ago Byron's wallet was stolen, his account drained and the difficulty replacing an ID brought him to The Franciscan Center.
"This is only my second time here, but I can't tell you how much of a difference you have made in me, just by the kindness and respect everyone has shown me."
"Coming to the Franciscan Center, you see someone you don't know, and it doesn't matter what color you are. You are like family to me, in the kindness that you have shown me."
Taking a moment to wipe the tears and regain composure, Byron explains that he wants to work with sight impaired children. That he thinks maybe he could make a difference and show kids that they can overcome difficulties too. Growing up wasn't easy, his mother an alcoholic and his father a transvestite, then to lose his sight; Byron's personal strength is both inspiring and humbling.
More humbling is what he says about being at the Center, "The work you do here, the people you help... it makes me want to work harder. The kindness and the love that you show everyone who comes here, it makes me see that it is a good day."
Perhaps Byron doesn't see that we feel the same way about him. He makes us want to work harder too.