Wed | Jun 3, 2020

Physically blind but spiritually strong - Dr Curtis Sweeney breaks bar of excellence - Pt 1

Published:Thursday | September 14, 2017 | 12:00 AMTamara Bailey
Dr Curtis Sweeney speaking with a beneficiary of the Grace & Staff Educational Programme
Dr. Curtis Sweeney

James 1:2-4 "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you are involved in various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But you must let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing."

When one is hit with devastating news, it is easy to become daunted and roll over and die, but true commendation must be made to those who rely on the strength of God and keep pushing.

As a young lad, Dr Curtis Sweeney was very promising; attending one of the leading high schools in the country, an avid footballer representing his school and simply poised for greatness.

But when he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited disease which causes retinal degeneration and a gradual decline in vision, resulting in blindness, things took a slight turn for him.

"I started wearing glasses from as early as age seven and I kept changing glasses. I went to an ophthalmologist and she told me that what I have, glasses couldn't correct. I still wore the glasses because of my myopia. She told me my eyes would get worse over time and as a teenager, that was a hard pill to swallow."

He added, "It affected my sense of confidence and it made me a very intense teenager. I started to question a lot of things about life, started to question 'why me?' I went through denial, depression and I even questioned God ..."

Sweeney literally watched himself go blind.

"It was a gradual process. I couldn't see to read, then I couldn't recognise faces, then I couldn't tell whether you were male or female, then all I saw were shadows. I became fully blind in my 20s. It was difficult. I tried my best to live a normal teenage life, but I was insecure about my vision. When I got invited to go to functions at nights, I would get very anxious, because I knew I would bump into people and look very clumsy."

It was Sweeney's passion to go into psychology, but with all the years of study required and the material he would need to go through, he didn't think he would be able to manage and so he ventured into the field of business.

"I transitioned from high school into the world of work. I completed a certificate programme in business administration, then a diploma in marketing and I worked in the accounting department at GraceKennedy. I had some challenges with my sight, but I did well there and I became senior accounting clerk."

Sweeney's vision began deteriorating even more and soon had to leave the position he knew for years.

"It's interesting how God works though, because a subsidiary of the company was expanding and they needed a switchboard operator, it was a step down from what I did but I did it, as no job is menial. A representative of the Jamaica Society for the Blind was brought in and an assessment done (on me)."

He struggled every day with questions of why he was operating a switchboard and what caused his demotion. It was overwhelming and there were days when he saw no light at the end of the tunnel.

But what the Devil creates for bad, God transforms for good.

This fully blind man was able to complete his first (bachelor's) degree, master's degree and doctoral degree in his beloved area of psychology, all with honours, through trying times and with the strength of God.

Next week, we find out just how he did it.