Gary Gray could have been forgiven for taking time for himself after having emergency eye surgery in 2006. But, no, he has used his recovery to give his time to others.RIAHN SMITH May 22, 2014 5:46am
Busy schedule: Former Wanganui Park Secondary College teacher Gary Gray is using his recovery from emergency eye surgery to volunteer up to six days a week.
The day began like any other.
It was 2006 and Gary Gray arrived at Wanganui Park Secondary College to teach his students, just like he had every school day for the past 16 years.
He organised the teachers, taught his lessons and when searching for an order book at the end of the day complained to a colleague of a slight soreness in his eye.
Mr Gray was blind and having emergency surgery to save his sight just hours later.
He had suffered tears in his retinas — the ‘‘screens’’ at the back of your eyes that help form visual images — and had been plunged into darkness.
‘‘It was a very scary time. I was pretty dismal, I thought maybe I’ll only make it to 60 or so and that was only a few years to go,’’ Mr Gray said.
‘‘I thought, ‘I can’t work, I can’t use a computer, I can’t drive, I can’t watch TV, I’ll never be able to read again’ — it didn’t look good.’’
Mr Gray’s eyesight was mostly restored after numerous operations and nearly a year of rehabilitation with the support of Vision Australia.
He sees in double, each eye reflecting the scene in front of him distinct from the other.
While his vision remains distorted, Mr Gray’s insight into the value of support he received was clear — and significantly changed his view of the future.
Since his recovery, Mr Gray has dedicated his time to volunteering — he does wood-working with Vision Australia clients and makes toys for donation at Woodturners of the Goulburn Valley.
He has also played an instrumental role in establishing an assortment of Men’s Sheds across the region and is involved in weekly working bees at Shepparton’s new Australian Botanical Gardens.
His latest foray into community work gets him up at dawn to butter toast for hungry children at Shepparton East Primary School’s new breakfast program.
It is a busy schedule.
‘‘I’ve got something on nearly every day. My only weekend is Monday,’’ Mr Gray said with a laugh.
‘‘I’ve always been one to want to make a bit of a difference and getting involved with volunteering was a way to be appreciated again. It really became the silver lining in an otherwise dark sky.
‘‘But it hasn’t been too holier than thou. It started as a way of thanking Vision (Australia) for all the work they did for me. I don’t know what I would have done without their support.’’
And his proudest achievement since venturing into the unpaid-work sector?
Seeing how the Men’s Shed movement has helped keep a man out of trouble with the law.
‘‘There’s a guy that comes here who has an acquired brain injury and has been in and out of jail,’’ Mr Gray said.
‘‘Because of the work he’s done here, and the good he’s done for the community, he’s been permanently out of jail for about six years.
‘‘He doesn’t have family in the area, so I’ve been his support system. We’ve been able to show him his contribution and his ideas are valid and make him feel worthwhile.
‘‘You can just see a huge difference — he’s my number one success.’’
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