Victim in Miami face-eating attack may be blind
MIAMI (Reuters) - A 65-year-old homeless man who was the victim of a gruesome face-eating attack in Miami is temporarily blind but recovering well after suffering devastating injuries to nearly half of his face, doctors said on Monday.
Hospital officials released two pictures of Ronald Poppo, who remains in the hospital in stable condition after the horrific Memorial Day weekend attack on the off-ramp of a bridge in downtown Miami.
One picture showed his face covered in scabs and missing most of his nose and both of his eyebrows and his eyes covered -- one with gauze and the other with a skin flap.
In a second picture, he is seen walking with help from hospital staff.
"He's had quite a bit of surgery," said Dr. Nicholas Namias, a trauma surgeon at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital. "He's feeling well. He's eating. He's walking around."
Police are investigating the attack that involved 31-year-old Rudy Eugene, who was found naked and chewing on Poppo's face. Police shot and killed Eugene when he failed to respond to orders to stop attacking the man.
Law enforcement officials have speculated that Eugene may have been under the influence of a synthetic stimulant known as bath salts, which the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has linked to side effects ranging from impaired perception of reality to agitation and delusional behavior.
When Poppo arrived at the hospital, "you couldn't really make out his identity or what his facial features were," said Dr. Wrood Kassira, a University of Miami plastic surgeon on the medical team treating him.
Even now, she said, "when he smiles, it's hard to see who he really is."
The attack has left Poppo blind in at least one eye and facing the risk of losing his vision permanently, the doctors said.
His "left eye was essentially destroyed and needed to be removed," said Kassira. "We're hoping that in the future there may be some hope of some kind of vision but it's unclear if he'll recover any of it."
Poppo also suffered a brain injury in the attack. It did not result in any permanent damage but suggested the brutal nature of the incident. "It's the sort of thing we see in car crashes usually," Namias said.
Poppo was treated for two puncture wounds in his chest that doctors said could have been from a bullet but were unable to determine what caused them.
Since his arrival, Poppo has undergone at least three surgeries and is expected to require more. In one operation, doctors removed skin from his forehead and scalp area to cover one of his eyes.
Still, Namias said Poppo was coping well with his injuries and had only briefly brought up the attack in a nighttime conversation with nurses.
"He's really just sort of living in the moment and wants to talk about routine things," he said. "He's very upbeat. He hasn't said one thing negative to me."
"I've never used this word to describe someone before, but he's charming, he really is," Namias said.
College-educated and a New York native, Pappo has lived on the streets of Miami for years.
No family members have visited him since he was hospitalized, Namias added.
Poppo is expected to remain in the hospital for a few more weeks. Where he is moved after his treatment will depend on his medical needs, the doctors said.
A fund set up by the Jackson Memorial Foundation to help Poppo with his medical costs has raised about $15,000. He is also expected to qualify for Medicaid and Medicare, hospital officials said.
(Editing by Andrew Hay)