by NADEEM BADSHAH
FOR Amit Patel, a dog really is a man’s best friend after he lost his eyesight within 36 hours due to a rare condition.
The former doctor was lifted out of his depression by guide dog Kika along with the support of his wife Seema and relatives.
Patel lost his vision aged 33 after waking up one morning in 2013 and feeling pain in his eyes. He was diagnosed with keratoconus, a condition which changes the shape of the cornea in the eye.
He is now a motivational speaker, disabilities campaigner and a father to three-year-old son Abhi and daughter Anoushka who was born last summer.
Patel has posted footage on Twitter of his journeys on public transport since 2015 including the verbal abuse he regularly suffers from passengers.
His canine companion has become his eyes to the outside world but also “like a big sister” to his children which he details in his new book Kika & Me.
In an interview with Eastern Eye, Patel said: “Kika was in the hospital when both my kids were delivered. My wife likes to say it kept her calm. The second time around we had my son and Kika in the room when the baby was born. Kika basically kept my son calm, he had her on his lap.
“The funny thing is the kids listen to her more than they listen to me – when my son is playing out or is a bit too rowdy, she puts two paws on him and he would accept that and sit down. When we try to tell him to sit down he’s like ‘no daddy I still want to play’.”
He added: “We find my son curled up with her in Kika’s bed, his head against her. It is nice to know they have an amazing bond. He learnt to walk by holding Kika’s collar. My son had no interest in using a walker, he tried to climb on Kika’s back and hold her collar and would walk with her.”
The former NHS doctor revealed he gets verbal abuse on average six times a month from commuters but believes more disabled people are speaking out now to highlight the problem.
Kika guides him everywhere after he did not go out alone for three months after being assaulted while walking with a cane.
Patel, who lives in London, uses his experiences to raise awareness of how some people with disabilities are treated in public.
He said: “It is easy to get knocked back down again. The little comments you get are that I am m selfish for having kids because I am disabled, my son is not going to have the same upbringing or if something happens to my son you wouldn’t know about it.
“You think, is this how society really thinks about disabled people? To my face, random people on the street have said this. I think ‘wow, I am not the only blind parent out there’. You build an armour and carry it around with you.”
The 40-year-old added: “It is only when you talk to other disabled people, they have heard it, it is so common. The more I talk about it, the easier it will be for other people – how difficult life can be but also how rewarding it can be.”
During his motivational talks, Patel has spoken about his experiences on the London Underground. “When we started talking about this two years ago certain people were afraid to speak out,” he said. “Hundreds of disabled people have come out and say I go through the same thing, I get abuse. I feel it has [improved] but people will still be rude, patronise me, speak down to me.
“If someone make a conscious decision maybe 100 yards to me and tell me to apologise to people for holding them up. You can see I am a blind guy with a guide dog. To belittle in front of hundreds of commuters, you have got something wrong with you or just taking it out on me.”
He added: “The message is slowly out there, people are understanding. A lot of people think asking a disabled person if they need help would offend them, I would take that help all day long.”
Patel said his happiness is due to the endless support from his wife, parents and Kika who helped him recover from the shock of losing his sight seven years ago.
“I never wanted to accept my life would be dark forever, there was so much I wanted to do in life. My wife, parents, were there, supportive said whatever you need to do, wherever you need to go we will do it.
“Once I accepted this is life and how its going to be, my wife already had a game plan, who to go to, who to talk to, she had done her research. My sight was taken away from me, but look how much I have got now – an amazing dog, two beautiful kids, amazing wife, amazing relationship with her, it’s made us stronger through the heartache.
“It is so easy to split and go in different directions or her to give up on me. But she didn’t, she was there throughout the whole thing and suffered as much as I did, and probably more, because she didn’t know what to do or say.
“I have met so many amazing people in my sight loss journey.”
Kika & Me, by Dr Amit Patel, is published by Pan Macmillan.