First Person: Brian Christian’s Story

Brian Christian was partnered with his guide dog in 2011. In this first person account, he shares his journey. 

I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Ind. At the age of 17, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy.  I was stationed aboard the U.S.S. Saratoga CV-60 and deployed to the Persian Gulf, where I served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  After fulfilling my obligation, I returned to Indianapolis, where I met Heather; we were married in September 1993.  I took a job at a local company as a conveyor installation tech. It was a good job, but the downside was that there was a lot of out-of-state travel. 

In July 2000, we were blessed with our first child, our daughter Madison, and two years later, with our second, Hannah.  Shortly after Hannah was born I was offered a great job, with minimal out-of-state travel, for a national engineering firm as an instrument man on a survey crew.  Within a few years I had been promoted to a party chief and ran my own survey crew. 

By 2007 life was going very well for me. We had purchased a vacation home that summer, and I had taken some time off to work on the house. 

Life-changing diagnosis
A portrait of Brian and his dog Freddie.I began to have some difficulty seeing out of my left eye and suspected that it was time for a routine eye exam. The optometrist said there appeared to be a problem with my retina, so I was referred to a retinal specialist who told me that it was a little more significant.  I was then referred to an optic neurologist who initially suspected that it was a case of optic neuritis and that the condition would correct itself within a few weeks.  However, the condition persisted, so I was tested for Lyme disease and multiple sclerosis – both of which came back as weak positives.  Eventually, I was given a spinal tap and told that the results would be back within four to six weeks.  

My eyesight continued to deteriorate and the condition began to spread to my right eye.  By the fall, I still didn’t have any answers, and it was no longer safe for me to drive.  Finally, in late October 2007, the results came back: I had a rare genetic disease called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), for which there is no cure.  The disease would continue to attack my optic nerves and result in the loss of my central vision, rendering me legally blind.  I went on disability and fell into a deep depression.  I felt useless and a burden to my family. 

Through Indiana’s Family and Social Service Administration, I was accepted into rehabilitation classes at Bosma Enterprises and scheduled to begin in February 2008.  But my plans would be put on hold indefinitely. 

A family crisis
In January 2008, my family would be dealt another devastating blow.  My youngest daughter, Hannah, had fallen in gym class and hurt her right knee.  At the time, it seemed superficial, but the following week, her kindergarten teacher mentioned that Hannah was still favoring her leg.  My mother-in-law took take her to the family doctor the next day, because my wife and I had my first appointment with a low vision specialist, a visit scheduled three months prior.  I was afraid I might have to wait a few more months if I canceled. Besides, we figured that Hannah merely had a sprain.  

While wrapping up my appointment, we received a call from my mother-in-law to get to the doctor's’ office immediately, where we heard the words no parent ever wants to hear: “Your child has cancer.”  

Hannah was just 6, and the X-rays showed a large tumor on her right femur, which was indicative of bone cancer.  This was beyond devastating news.  We came to the decision that my wife would continue working and caring for our oldest daughter, while I would stay with Hannah at the hospital during her treatments, which began with 10 rounds of chemotherapy with surgery. 

The surgery was a success, but Hannah would need an additional seven months of chemotherapy.  It was during this time that I saw God’s plan –  my child’s well-being had become my new full-time job.  I would be  whatever she needed me to be.  I had a renewed sense of purpose.  After 13 months of battling cancer, we were told that Hannah’s cancer was in remission.  She has been cancer-free for three years now. She is my hero.  

Setting my own priorities
It took a while for our family to ease back into a new “normal” way of life and for me to make my own disability a priority.  I finally began rehabilitation classes at Bosma Enterprises in November 2009.  I learned how to cook safely, make minor repairs within the home, read braille, and negotiate obstacles.  I graduated from the rehabilitation program and decided that I wanted to pursue my bachelor’s degree.  I realized then that I would need a guide dog to assist me with navigating the public transportation system, as well as on campus. 

Brian and Freddie taking a walk in his neighborhood.I did some research and discussed my options with several of my visually impaired friends.  I contacted several guide dog schools, but was most impressed by the Guide Dog Foundation.  They were always timely in returning my calls, the staff was friendly, and the school seemed well organized.  The Foundation sent me out a packet of information, as well as an application.  The process was smooth and before too long, I was accepted and invited to an upcoming class.

A new path
In March 2011, I flew to New York to meet and train with my future guide dog.  I had no idea was in store.  On the second day, I was matched with a red Golden Retriever named Freddie with a great temperament.  We bonded right away.  The training I received with Freddie at the Guide Dog Foundation was phenomenal – it was varied and prepared me for almost any situation.  The staff and trainers were very professional and courteous. 

Freddie is all business when he’s in his harness, but once the harness comes off, he’s relaxed and playful.  After three weeks of training, we graduated from the program and returned home. 

Freddie adjusted quickly.  He’s a part of our family, and we couldn’t be happier.  I know that I chose the best facility from which to receive my guide dog.  I depend on him daily, and he never lets me down.  It is through him that I am able to recapture my independence!