66-year-old had four reconstructive surgeries since the attack which left him blind last year and ‘is very content’ right now
A homeless man whose face was chewed off in a cannibal-style attack on a Miami causeway a year ago is recovering well from his life-changing wounds, but will never regain his eyesight, doctors said on Tuesday.
Ronald Poppo, 66, “is very content with where he is right now,” playing the guitar in his hospital room every day and enjoying following the Miami Heat’s challenge for basketball’s national championship, according to staff at the Jackson Memorial Perdue Medical Centre.
But after four surgeries to rebuild his face over the past 12 months, Poppo is refusing any more reconstructive work, and is happy to live a “simple” life in the long-term care facility.
“He can’t see what he looks like, and it’s not important to him how the world sees him,” said Dr Urmen Desai, a plastic surgeon at the University of Miami/Jackson hospital.
“He wants the world to know he is not traumatised by this, and that he’s grateful and happy. He’s a simple guy who’s happy just being alive.”
Poppo lost one eyeball and suffered irreparable damage to the other in the attack on Miami’s MacArthur causeway on 26 May last year. His naked assailant, a 31-year-old man called Rudy Eugene, also bit off Poppo’s nose before he was shot dead by police who were called to the scene by horrified passers-by.
A press conference at the Jackson Memorial Hospital on Tuesday began with a short video of Mr Poppo, wearing a red and white baseball cap, playing his guitar and thanking medical staff and the community for taking care of him and supporting him.
Doctors and nursing staff painted a picture of a solitary man who had come to terms with the trauma he had suffered, and who had made great progress in his rehabilitation. But they said he was also not ready or willing to receive visits from family members, and was content to stay mostly in his room at the Perdue facility.
“He’s a very private person, very pleasant and very respectful to people,” said Adolfa Sigue, Perdue’s nurse manager.
“What happened was very traumatic for him but he’s never said anything negative about his situation. He told me everything that happened to him but he has no blame for the person who did this to him.”
Poppo, who spent a month in intensive care for treatment for his severe facial wounds, has learned to dress himself, feed himself and use the bathroom, and is able to take showers and shave by himself.
He is now above 200 pounds, having gained more than 50lbs in recent months, said Patricia Copalka, a nurse who has become his near permanent companion at Perdue.
“Eating’s the great love of his life, and following the Miami Heat,” she said.
“He likes to spend time in his room listening to the radio and playing his guitar. He was in a band before and he hasn’t played for four years, so this is very good therapy for him.
“We wanted to give him something that he liked to do, and he knows plenty of chords. He’s really enjoying it.”
She said she had invited him to her home to meet her family but so far he has always refused. “We try to get him to do things but he always says, ‘not now’,” said Kathy Anglin, his occupational therapist. “He never says no, it’s always ‘maybe tomorrow’.
“When you get him engaged, he’s such a hard worker. He’s very thought orientated. For a man who’s blind he still has a great mind and uses it to the nth degree. He’s a very smart man, he can be very humorous and can get you laughing in a heartbeat.”
Nurses hosted a small party for his 66th birthday last Friday and brought him cake and ice cream, a simple celebration for a man who Dr Desai said was good company. “He has a special charm about him,” he said.
Dr Woody Kassira, a fellow plastic surgeon, said Mr Poppo could still choose to have more surgery, but always said he did not want to. “We present him with the options every time we see him,” she said. “There is still work that can be done but he’s content with where he’s at right now. When he first came in, one of his eyeballs was missing and we covered the other with skin and tissue in order to protect the eye.
“Unfortunately, over the course of the last 12 months there hasn’t been any improvement in light or colour definition and his vision is completely lost.”
Managers at Perdue said Medicare was covering all of Poppo’s medical bills and that an additional fund of $100,000 was available to him, plus donations from the public. He can stay at the facility as long as he chooses, they said.
The reason for the attack, which appeared to be random, might never been known. There was speculation that Eugene had taken mind-altering drugs but toxicology tests revealed only the presence of marijuana in his system.