A SIMPLE kickabout turned sour for football fanatic Gary Hamilton when a ball smashed into his face and lodged an aggressive form of bacteria into his contact lens.
At one point, doctors questioned whether they would be able to save his eye as he spent two weeks under strict observation at the city’s Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion.
Now, the 22-year-old from Craigour is back on his feet, playing football and dreaming of becoming a PE teacher, despite only seeing vague shades of colour from the injured eye.
He is also aiming to raise money for a sight-saving charity by running more than 100 miles for the cause.
Recalling his ordeal, which took place before a university team trial in September 2009, he said: “I woke up the day after football and my right eye was red and irritable, then it got worse and worse.
“I went into hospital and, at first, they said they didn’t know if they would be able to save it. I was told that an abscess had formed on the top.
“For the first week and a half they had to wake me up every half an hour to give me eye drops. It was scary. I thought I was going to lose my eye at 19.
“After I was released from hospital I had no depth perception. On my first day out I had to go back straight away because I split my head open after I bent over to take my shoe off.
“In hospital I would go to pour a drink into a cup and it would spill all over the bed, but you do get used to it.”
Gary has been told that a corneal transplant could restore his vision and has vowed to raise £1000 for the Fight for Sight charity, which funds research to prevent sight loss and treat eye diseases.
He will run a total of 103 miles in a series of events, including the Loch Ness Marathon, the Meadows Half Marathon and four Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest 10km races, in which runners also negotiate various obstacles.
Despite his impairment, Gary has started cycling and made a return to 11-a-side football with the help of specially-made sports glasses.
The Dalkeith Colts forward added: “When it happened, it did affect my confidence a bit. You think everyone is staring at the eye, but you’ve got to get past that.
“I want to show others who lose their sight that if you just get on with it, you can still accomplish your goals.
“At first, football was really hard, but now it’s not too bad. I have to take a bit of time and look around more – that might eventually make me a better player!
“My experience has made me realise just how much I took my sight for granted and although there’s hope for my vision, there are millions of other people living with the knowledge that they might never see again.”
Gary, who studies sport and exercise science at Edinburgh Napier University, has been advised to wait until he graduates and starts his career before he undergoes any operation to restore his sight, which would see his cornea removed and a transplant stitched in its place.
The stitches in the eye would be removed after 18 months and it would be another six months before he could participate in sport.
Fight for Sight set up the UK Corneal Transplant Service in 1983.
The charity’s chief executive, Michele Acton, said: “Gary is really going the extra mile for the charity and we hope as many people as possible will support him. We very much hope to see his sight restored.”
To sponsor Gary in the Meadows Half Marathon on March 4, visit www. justgiving.com/Gary-Runningman