A year in the dark


A year after the tragic evening when he lost his vision, Ceará-born José Neto, is overcoming the challenges of this new life. And, not only is he turning his life around for the better – he is an example of life.

By Elisia Teixeira


A stray bullet fired from a nearby park by one of two men in a drug related argument took out both eyes of a young man walking down a sidewalk blinding him for life. This could be a common line in the Brazilian news – but surprisingly it happened in Canada, on September 16 one year ago. José Ribamar Ribeiro Neto, a 24-year-old Brazilian exchange student, came to Calgary to learn English and improve his life skills. But he wasn’t aware that becoming blind and learning to live in darkness would be one – and the hardest – of them.

The incident took place in Calgary (AB) where the Brazilian community is very small but responded promptly to provide support through its members and also collect donations from Calgarians. Even two fundraiser events were organized by the Brazilian Association to gather donations to assist the student in his basic needs. Now, at the anniversary of this tragic incident, we know that the shooter pleaded guilty. However, Neto will remain blind forever as science has not yet proved to offer an alternative solution for eyesight recovery in cases when the eyes have been damaged and completely removed.

CNIB – Canadian National Institute for the Blind – has been the major resource for Neto to learn to cope with the challenges of being blind. Daily sessions of space orientation to teach this young and strong man how to use footsteps and other landmarks to interact with the environment around him have been one of the main focuses of his learning, along with “JAWS”, a specially developed software for blind people.

Whenever he can, Neto highlights the importance of the many people who helped him overcome the ups and downs of his new condition. One of them is certainly more important than everybody else: Roberta Porto, his girlfriend and currently his fiancé, who has been following his progress and providing continued love and support. A very generous Calgarian, Kevin Taylor, also made a big difference donating a house for Neto to live free of charge during the first six months after he left the hospital.

After a year of living with his new condition, the Brazilian still struggles with options and prospects for his future. At his first media appearance after he was shocked by the news of being blind, he said it felt like someone had “erased” his plans for life, and one year later his plans are still not completely replaced. However, he never seems bitter or depressed (see his testimonial on the next page).

A big help came from music. Although he has been a musician since his teenage years, music has now become his major interest – for enjoyment and communication with people. While in Brazil he was in reggae bands playing guitar and singing, in Calgary he has played Brazilian songs in solo performances at a number of occasions and venues. Positive energy is one of the characteristics and trademarks of his concerts.

Obtaining a degree, which will require his return to university, is also in his plans for the future. Nevertheless he still needs to become more independent for moving around, as well as confident with a new approach for learning to achieve the next level and deal with this challenge. But there is no doubt that the persistent and inspiring Neto will definitely do it.

Neto’s battle, as written by him

In this emotional account, the hopeful and positive youth states in his own words how he has adapted to his blindness and what his plans are for the future.

“A year of total darkness. Analysing this today, those were the most difficult and longest months of my life. From one moment to the next I had to relearn almost everything – simple things such as reading, writing, getting around, dressing myself and so many other things. With all this learning, I came across many challenges, deceptions, knocks and falls. But I believe in the saying that states: “When one door closes, another one opens”. I know that I am growing morally, developing qualities such as patience, understanding, tolerance, confidence and perseverance.

Some things were essential for me to stay psychologically healthy. Technology, for example, which allowed me to continue doing things on a daily basis – such as surfing the Internet, checking e-mails and even reading books – without a doubt, was one of them. The most important one was music, my main hobby: I forget all of my problems when I play the drums, bass, electric or traditional guitar, today I have an inseparable friend.

In conclusion, I would say that I am adapting very well, accepting the situation that I am in. I have met marvelous people, who have helped me and my family very much. I owe a lot to the Canadian community and mainly the Brazilian community from Calgary. I am grateful for all those who helped me overcome the various obstacles that were in my way. I thank God for having given me the opportunity to continue this journey without giving into grief or spite. Today, alongside the people that I love and with the resources that I have, I can re-plan my life just like any other person.

It has been a year since that night, and I am still very dedicated to adapt to my blindness. I always look to the positive side of things and try to live for today, not thinking much about the distant future. After the accident, I had to delay some dreams and others had to be forgotten. Everything is still very recent, I am still in the reprogramming phase, but I am sure about some things for the near future. I want to resume my studies at the university in Administration and International Business, do some musical projects and continue training for, who knows one day, a competition as a para-cyclist. I also hope to soon be accepted as a permanent Canadian resident and, this way, my fiancé, Roberta Porto, and I can live and start our family in this country that has welcomed us and changed our lives.”

José Neto