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Bruce builds law career despite vision challenges

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Lawyer Bruce Swan never goes anywhere without his mini magnifying glass (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

At 22 Bruce Swan found out he had diabetes and, instead of dealing with the diagnosis, set it aside.

He was in law school at the time and focused on his studies. Today, he wishes he had been more concerned about his health.

Last year while walking outside Bruce Swan & Associates, the law firm he set up on Parliament Street in 2019, he heard his wife Headilene call out to him. To his surprise he was unable to pick her face out of the crowd.

“Everything had a white overlay haze over it. I was finding it hard to notice where things were,” he said.

Doctors found he had diabetic retinopathy. A complication caused by diabetes, it occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the retina. If untreated, it can lead to blindness.

"I have had surgery three times to remove all the additional blood and blood vessels that diabetics get in the back of their eyes,” said Mr Swan, whose most recent surgery at Lahey Medical Center was more involved that initially expected.

The scheduled operation was to remove the excess blood vessels in his left eye but “then my right eye got jealous”.

“It started to bleed right before we were supposed to come back to Bermuda on Flora Duffy Day.”

The emergency surgery kept him in Massachusetts a week longer than expected.

“I really regret that I was not more aggressive in dealing with it when I was first diagnosed."

His diet was "the primary reason [his] sugars were high". A lack of exercise exacerbated his health issues.

On learning he had diabetes he figured it would “work itself out” because he was so young.

The normal range for the haemoglobin A1c level is between 4 per cent and 5 per cent; a haemoglobin A1c level of 6.5 per cent indicates diabetes.

Mr Swan had hit 12 per cent when his vision started to fail.

Since then he has been working hard to bring his blood sugar back under control and changed his diet with help from a diabetic nutritionist at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

“Now I bring lunch every day,” he said. “I have two small snacks in the morning, a soup and a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and two more snacks in the afternoon. For dinner I will have meat and some vegetables.”

Before his last surgery he and his wife were also walking regularly.

“Now I have to get back into it,” he said. “This year my numbers have come down to 7 per cent. My diabetic doctor says I am a great story. He did not expect me to come down to anything less than an 11 in the last year.”

His vision is slowly improving although it “will never get better enough that I can catch the fine details”.

Tesha McMoride of Vision Bermuda, offered ways to cope and gave him rubber dots that have proven useful in distinguishing one button from another on the microwave.

The vision specialist also showed him how to use a white cane.

“I don’t need that at the moment,” Mr Swan said. “But I am open to the next level of what needs to be done. I am just hoping that it does not come to that for a little while.”

Bruce Swan using his visually accessible keyboard (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

His computer has bright yellow keys labelled with large black letters to make it easier for him to type; to read, he carries around a magnifying glass shaped like a monocle.

“On my computer I have Windows 10. That has a magnifying glass on it. That helps me be efficient with e-mails, drafts and documents and things like that.”

An app on his phone reads out the number that is calling. Sometimes he gets funny looks when it goes off in the courtroom.

His pupil, Chardonnai Hughes, and paralegal, Genesis Iris, have been “extremely helpful”.

Bruce Swan, centre, with his pupil attorney Chardonnai Hughes on the left, and paralegal Genesis Iris on the right (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

He knows of other lawyers in Bermuda who have had challenges with their eyesight.

Mr Swan said simple things could be done in buildings to make them more accessible to the visually impaired such as marking the floor to indicate the beginning of a flight of steps.

“If I look down I cannot necessarily decipher the end of a step from the level,” he said. “A lot of buildings overseas have some kind of lip or distinguishing mark to tell you where the floor ends and where the steps are. A lot of buildings in Bermuda don’t have that.”

The lighting is also often quite dim; credit card machines are a constant challenge.

Sometimes the obstacle is just a lack of awareness.

“A cashier in the grocery store rang something up for me the other day,” he said. “I said how much was it and she just pointed to the screen. I was looking. Finally I just shook my head and she read out the total.”

He is grateful he has been able to keep practising law.

“It is a challenge, but I love that I am still able to just do it,” he said. “Having some aid to help me makes it a little easier than it would normally be.”

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Published November 23, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated November 24, 2021 at 7:54 am)

Bruce builds law career despite vision challenges

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