After serving in the military, Knowles began a career in construction as a plumbing contractor. He moved to Phoenix 15 years ago and was part of a team that supervised large construction projects such as the Tempe Marketplace and the Phoenix Convention Center.
“Being responsible for $286 million projects was challenging,” says Knowles. “It was a stressful job with a lot of demands.”
On Oct. 26, 2014, Knowles experienced an appendix attack and went in for routine surgery. However, his surgery was anything but routine. Knowles’ iliac artery was mistakenly severed during the surgery. After bleeding out and suffering a stroke, Knowles was placed on life support in the ICU. When he woke up four days later, he couldn’t see anything. Knowles had become permanently blind.
“For the next two months, I stayed at home recovering and trying to fight anger and depression,” he says. “I eventually realized that I needed to handle this in a positive way. It was not up to anyone else to make this okay. It was up to me. I could choose to let this beat me and make me the worst person ever, or I could choose to live and do something positive with my life.”
Knowles chose life. He sought help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He was sent to a blind rehabilitation school at the Tucson hospital where he stayed for two months.
“They taught me so much—how to get around with a cane, how to cross the street, how to use technology, how to read brail,” says Knowles. “I never knew how to type before. I learned that blind.”
The experience at the rehabilitation school impacted Knowles so greatly that he decided to dedicate his future to helping others who would face similar situations.
“My mentor, Tom, changed my life,” Knowles says. “My desire is to become a counselor in blind rehab therapy. My wife, Michelle, and I also want to start a nonprofit that will help the blind, their families and their support systems. Through our experience, we have identified gaps in care and resources. We will strive to fill those gaps.”
In order to realize his new dreams and goals, Knowles needed to go back to school for formal education. He is now enrolled at Paradise Valley Community College where he takes classes five days a week.
To further his quest for positive living, Knowles joined the Desert Foothills Family YMCA, which is right next door to the college.
“The Y staff let me come in when there was no one in the facility so that I could learn the layout of the building and where everything is,” says Knowles. “I have developed my own path through markers like carpet edges, cabinets, and counting steps. The Y staff is friendly and professional. They have been more than accommodating.
“I come to the Y every day after my classes at the college,” Knowles adds. “I feel a sense of accomplishment when I am there. The Y has benefited me emotionally as well as physically. Exercise helps to battle depression. I feel better about myself.”
Building a stronger community is a focus of the Y. The Y wants to give back to those who dedicate themselves to serving our country. Knowles appreciates the preferred military rate he receives from the Y as a veteran.
“I applaud the Y for the military discount,” he says. “The Y supports veterans and handicapped individuals who are going through financial difficulties. That says a lot about the organization. The Y has a human heart. I am grateful for the efforts the Y does to take into account people’s hard times. It is appreciated.”
Knowles has chosen to remain positive in spite of his situation.
“I’ve learned to live in the moment,” he says. “I have also learned there are few things I can’t do. I push my limits with perseverance. Maybe I will try racquetball next to find out if I can do it!”