Imagine you’re a 10 year old again – just an average kid.

You love watching television. Playing football with your friends. Looking for tadpoles in the stream at the end of your road. Climbing trees.

All the usual stuff kids do.

Then something really unusual happens.

You get sick. Really sick. You’re told by the doctors that you have a kind of cancer. Cancer in your blood! They give you medicine that makes you feel even worse. Your hair falls out. You’re tired all the time. Everything hurts.

Then suddenly you go blind… and your whole world goes dark.

Donnacha’s whole world changed, almost overnight, when his battle with leukaemia destroyed his optic nerves.

…no more television. No more football or tree climbing or sunsets or painting… no more searching for tadpoles in the stream down the road.

Just darkness.

It’s hard to imagine the terror he must have felt. The sadness and anger. The immense loneliness in this new dark world. But these are the things Donnacha had to deal with at that tender age.

It must have been terrible, but talking to Donnacha today, you’d hardly think so.

Donnacha and Guide Dog Holly walk on O Connells Street, Dublin

Now aged 26, Donnacha is a very strong-willed, independent-minded and incredibly optimistic person who lives his life the way he wants to live.

Today, Donnacha has a fantastic job working in IT for Vodafone. He has two university degrees under his belt. He has moved from Cork to Dublin, where he lives totally independently. He goes out whenever he wants, and goes where he chooses. To chat to him, you’d hardly know he is blind.

But he couldn’t have achieved this degree of independence and confidence on his own.

He couldn’t have done it without his best friend and companion, Holly. Or without the help he’s been receiving from Irish Guide Dog’s for the Blind, almost since the day he lost his sight.

You see, we began working with Donnacha 10 years ago through our Child Mobility Programme.

Our Child Mobility Officer, Victoria Elliot, went to meet Donnacha in hospital and began the critically important work needed to teach him how to live with being blind. How to use a long cane. How to get around. And also laying the ground-work that would eventually lead to the day Guide Dog Holly came into his life.

For Donnacha, the early years adjusting to life without vision weren’t actually the toughest. The hard part came later, as Donnacha recalls…

“I grew up in the middle of the countryside, so navigating wasn’t…..really a big problem because I retained a lot of my memory of the various roads.

When it really hit me was when I went to college in Cork City. Trying to navigate around a busy city and all the hustle and bustle that goes with that was a real shock to the system.”

Cut off from the comfort of familiar surroundings and the support of a caring family for the first time in his life, Donnacha suddenly discovered the stark realities of being alone in Cork City as a young student of just 18 years old.

We’ve all been there… taking our first steps out into the big wide world. You may well have watched your own children and grandchildren make the same journey.

Yes, it’s a time of excitement… but can you imagine making that journey in a world with no light, no colour, nothing familiar to cling to.

For Donnacha, the realisation that he might not be able to cope hit home.

Would he be able to continue his studies and gain the qualifications he needed to pursue his chosen career in IT? If not, what else could he do? Someone who’s blind does not have the same range of opportunities as someone who can see.

However, Donnacha is no quitter. In his mind, there was only one way to go. Forwards…

“I’d spoken with Guide Dog owners before and heard about the amazing independence owning a Guide Dog can bring, so I applied straightaway. Luckily it wasn’t too long before I got Holly, and I haven’t looked back since.”

Over the next seven years, Holly had a dramatic impact on Donnacha’s life. Aside from keeping him safe on the streets of both Cork City and Dublin City, Holly has made everything Donnacha wanted to do with his life possible.

Going to university to get his degrees. Getting a job working in IT. Going out socially with friends and meeting new people.

25 March 2017; Ireland players, back row, from left, Darren Mc Garry, Kevin Kelly, Matthew Kearney, and Darragh Stakelum, front row, from left, John Doherty, Paul Costello, and Donnacha McCarthy, during squad training at NSC Multi-Sport Pitches in Abbotstown. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

In fact, thanks to his Guide Dog, Donnacha has even had the confidence to go out and join a football team. Through Blind Football Ireland he’s now back playing the game he loved so much as a little boy.

In 2016 Donnacha trained with his second Guide Dog Aero and they have gone from Strength to Strength.

Donnacha enjoys his Independence working in Dublin and representing Ireland in a range of sports. His Guide Dog Aero means the world to him.

Watch Donnacha explain in his own words in the video below.

You can help us change more lives with #FutureHeroes who want to be just like Aero. Please donate today.

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