Guide dog is lifeline for Leeds grandad who lost most of sight on Christmas Day

A Leeds grandad who lost most of his sight on Christmas Day four years ago suffers from face blindness so cannot recognise his two-year-old granddaughter.

By Mark Lavery
Thursday, 25th November 2021, 11:45 am

Graham Varley, 56, of Chapel Allerton also has a rare condition that causes frightening hallucinations.

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Graham was a bakery manager in 2017 when he suffered multiple strokes before collapsing

Graham Varley with his guide dog Griffin

The blood was cut off from the main artery to his brain and on Christmas Day 2017 he lost the majority of his sight.

Graham said: “After my strokes I not only had to learn to do everything again like read and write, and even learn how to get dressed, but I also lost the majority of my vision - and on Christmas Day of all days.

"The only sight I have left is a bit in the top right of my eyes. I cannot focus and have no perception of 3D, so everything I can see looks like a cartoon.

“One of the most disturbing things caused by my sight loss, is Charles Bonnet Syndrome, which causes me to see things that aren’t there.

Graham Varley with his guide dog Griffin

"Sometimes it can be things looking a different colour than they are, such as grass being pink or a tree being purple.

"But other times it can cause me to have hallucinations that can be quite frightening - such as a car coming towards me, or quite often, huge spider webs.

“I also now suffer from something called prosopagnosia which means I can’t recognise people’s faces.

Graham Varley's guide dog Griffin

"I have a two-year-old granddaughter and because I’ve never known what she actually looks like, my condition means that she looks different to me each time I see her."

“I still have two blood clots on the brain that are dormant but they can move about and that causes my sight to change all the time, because signals aren’t going to the correct place.

“What happened to me is so rare, and so strange and it really has been horrible to deal with.

"I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But four years on - I feel like I’ve started to live again.”

In November 2020, Graham was partnered with his guide dog Griffin,

Graham said: “We go out every day together, he’s opened up my life so much.

"The furthest I used to go was to the end of my driveway and back, but now we walk three or four miles a day.

“With my Charles Bonnet Syndrome, Griffin helps me know what is real and what isn’t.

"If I see something ahead of me but Griffin keeps on walking, I know that it’s a hallucination.

"I feel like I’ve got my confidence back. I didn’t do any of the things that I do now, without Griffin.

“I’ve even taken him to the pub and everyone’s got to know him - he goes to say hello to everyone and now he’s a local celebrity."

Graham, who lives with his wife Mandy in Chapel Allerton, has four children and five grandchildren and is supported by a carer at his home.

He said: "’I've never trusted anyone like I do Griffin - he is truly amazing and I’m so grateful to Guide Dogs and the team for their support.”

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