Jose Cruz, left, who has been blind in his left eye since childhood, was blinded in his right eye during an attack by a former co-worker more than a year ago. Mayola Cruz, his wife, has helped him through the long recovery process that has included two surgeries.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Jose Cruz, left, who has been blind in his left eye since childhood, was blinded in his right eye during an attack by a former co-worker more than a year ago. Mayola Cruz, his wife, has helped him through the long recovery process that has included two surgeries.

Family still struggling more than a year after being left blind

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Jose Cruz was blinded after an attack more than a year ago.

Jose Cruz was blinded after an attack more than a year ago.

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Jose Cruz doesn't need to use his white blind cane full time anymore; however, he still uses it for walks because he is able to see only shapes and shadows. Cruz, a painter by trade, stands next to the van he previously used to get to and from jobs. The van was also used in the attack that left him blind in his good eye and unable to work.

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These photos were taken during doctor visits. At left is his eye the day after the attack in March 2008. The second image, at right, was taken March 30, 2009, and shows how the eye has improved. His vision has returned to about 50 percent of normal.

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Jose Cruz has had two surgeries to correct his vision. Those and other medical expenses have tallied up to $50,000 in bills. That figure doesn't include a third surgery, which still is needed, but the couple doesn't know whether they can afford it. The family has received help from local groups to pay the surgery bills, and Cruz has set up payment plans with his doctor.

— The blind cane now is used only occasionally, and the doctor visits are further apart, but Jose Cruz's world still is blurry shapes and dull shadows.

Cruz, 46, was attacked more than a year ago by an angry co-worker while working as a commercial painter in Hayden. He has been blind in one eye since childhood, and the attack left his good eye blind, as well.

"The doctors said it was like a razor blade was slid across the retina of his eye," said his wife, Mayola Cruz, 45.

Together, the couple has endured drastic changes, but Jose and Mayola are learning to cope together.

On the morning of March 24, 2008, Jose was about to leave for another day of work as a carpenter. While on the job, he and Mayola were living in Hayden with other workers, though the couple now lives in Craig.

As Jose entered his minivan, one of his neighbors who he knew from work, Eduardo Gallegos, came at him from his bad side, the eye he hadn't been able to see out of for years.

"He hit me with the door of the minivan, right in the only good eye I had," Jose said.

Doctors have tried to bring his vision back, but one surgery turned into two, and soon there may be a third.

Each surgery was supposed to be the last, each promising to bring his vision back to perfect, but the results of the attack have been more severe than originally imagined.

His vision has only improved to about 50 percent normal.

He and Mayola still are hopeful the third time will be the charm.

"If the doctor says so, I think it would be better for me," Jose said.

Finding a way to pay for it is the only hesitation.

There were three swollen cuts in his eye, several bruises and cuts over his body and a chipped tooth.

Jose was hospitalized in Steamboat Springs for two days, and later, doctors told him he developed diabetes from a spike in glucose because of the shock of the attack.

After a long trial, Gallegos was sentenced Jan. 6 to five years in prison for second-degree attempted murder with a deadly weapon.

The Cruz's think Gallegos was jealous that Jose still was working while Gallegos was no longer needed.

"It was concluded that he was resentful because they actually needed Jose at work," Mayola said. "But he actually apologized. He said it was never his intention to hurt him as badly as he did."

Jose didn't buy Gallegos' remorse.

Jose said his first thought when he heard the apology was, "Liar."

"If he knew me, why did he attack me like that?" he said. "He did nothing to my blind eye. Nothing."

After the trial, Jose and his wife began receiving threatening letters. The threats did not stop until a restraining order was filed against Gallegos' family.

Throughout this experience, the Cruz's have seen the good and bad in the community.

Although they said there are always some critics, Jose and Mayola are thankful for the help they have received from residents and local organizations.

"We love this country," Mayola said. "Even in these times of crisis, we have had the fortune of finding so many people willing to help."

Integrated Community in Craig assisted in setting up fundraisers for the Cruz's medical expenses.

Doctors also have been cooperative. They told Jose that he can take as long as he needs to finish paying off his debt and accept any minimum payment he is able to afford each month.

Independent Life Center donated medical items to Jose, including the cane he now uses to see.

Although the Cruz's are managing to survive thanks to the help they have received, Jose wishes to start working again to support himself and his wife.

"I get desperate," he said. "I've never been one to take things. I work for what I want. It's what my grandmother taught me."

In those first days after the incident, Jose sank into depression and slept day and night. He sought therapy to help cope with the new life, which community members also helped pay for.

Despite everything, Jose and Mayola have worked together to get through their obstacles.

"I'm thankful now," Jose said. "I'm glad to have the support of my wife."

As his vision began improving, and with support from his wife and friends, Jose has tried to keep working as he can.

He's been able to coordinate three painting jobs he has picked up since the incident. His friends do the painting using his equipment, and the money is split halfway.

Most days, he goes for walks when he has nothing to do. The exercise has helped him control his diabetes, along with a special diet he has had some trouble getting used to.

When Jose was first left blind, Mayola would go on walks with him to guide him.

"At first, my shoulders right here were his blind cane," Mayola said. "Now, every day he is more independent."

While their monthly expenses do not include rent or groceries because they live in a bedroom of a friend's house, they still continue to acquire debt from medical expenses.

The next surgery, if done, will add to that.

Twice a week, Mayola helps care for a lady who suffers from cancer, and in exchange the woman's family helps Mayola with a few expenses.

Still, it's been hard for the couple to cope.

Moments taken for granted before are now out of the question, either because of Jose's condition, or because of their finances.

Haircuts and long distance calls every week to family in Mexico have been drastically cut, and dinners out for special occasions - even for their eighth wedding anniversary Wednesday - are a thing of the past.

"Our life has changed radically," Mayola said. "We have learned to value everything so much more, but we have to because really we are limited to the help we get for now. The most important thing for us is that Jose can see again."

Yesenia Robles can be reached at 875-1790. Interviews for this story were conducted in Spanish, and later translated by Robles.

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