Ronald Poppo listens to Heat games through a portable radio, but he’ll never watch TV again. He’s relearning how to play guitar, but he has lost interest in reconnecting with his family.
Poppo’s doctors offer to give him prosthetic eyes and rebuild his chewed-off nose, but he turns them down.
“He’s blind, so he can’t see what he looks like now, and it doesn’t matter to him how the world sees him,” said Dr. Urmen Desai, a plastic surgeon. “He’s happy … to be alive and content with where he is.”
Poppo, who suffered a vicious, zombie-like attack last Memorial Day weekend on the MacArthur Causeway in Miami, allowed Desai and other doctors, nurses and therapists on Tuesday to speak publicly about his care for the first time since June.
But Poppo did not attend the briefing at Jackson Memorial Hospital, although he did appear in a short video, wearing a Heat hat and holding a guitar.
“I thank the outpouring of people in the community,” Poppo said. “I will always be grateful for them.”
Poppo’s caregivers said he spends his days in good spirits and in good health at Jackson Memorial Perdue Medical Center in Cutler Bay. His care covered by Medicaid, Poppo can remain in the nursing facility “indefinitely,” Jackson spokesman Edwin O’Dell said.
That outcome appears to be what Poppo wants. He has asked his caregivers not to send him “back to the public.”
Poppo, who turned 66 on Friday, had been homeless in Miami for decades, often finding shelter in a parking garage at Jungle Island.
He was hanging out a few blocks west of there, on the Miami side of the MacArthur, last May 26, when a man named Rudy Eugene brutalized him, tearing off Poppo’s clothes and chewing apart most of his face.
Police shot and killed Eugene, 31, at the scene. It remains unclear what prompted the savage attack; Poppo did not provoke Eugene, and investigators said Eugene had no drugs in his system other than marijuana.
At Perdue Medical Center, Poppo has added about 50 pounds to his malnourished body. He participates in therapy sessions with workers from Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.
He rarely speaks with his medical providers about the attack, and they don’t bring it up. He knows the first anniversary is this weekend, which has made him a little anxious, nurses Patricia Copalko and Adolfa Sigue said.
He maintains a positive attitude, they said, and doesn’t dwell on what may have made Eugene snap. “He says, ‘I’m sure that man had a bad day that day,’” Sigue said.
Copalko called Poppo an ideal patient “with a heart of gold.” She has invited him to spend holidays with her family. He has declined, but she plans to keep asking.
Sigue has become Poppo’s gatekeeper.
He doesn’t answer his room phone, so when people need to reach him, they call Sigue’s cell. He hasn’t added anyone to his visitor list, and he has stopped taking calls from his relatives, with whom he had been estranged before the attack.
“His sister called him, through me,” Sigue said. “I ran to him to give him my cell phone. He said, ‘I don’t want to talk this time. Maybe next time.’”