Jennifer Kay, AP
A homeless man whose face was mostly chewed off in a bizarre attack alongside a busy South Florida highway is in good spirits, talking and walking with the help of hospital staff, doctors said Tuesday. Ronald Poppo's left eye was removed, but doctors are trying to find a way to restore vision in his right eye. He will likely remain at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center for several more weeks and will need more surgeries before he can explore the options for reconstructing his face.
Poppo, 65, is aware of the media coverage the attack has generated. "He's pleased to report to all of you that he's feeling well, he's eating, he's walking around with physical therapy, he's talking with us," said Nicholas Namias, a University of Miami trauma surgeon and co-director of the center. Poppo has been at the hospital since he was attacked May 26 by Rudy Eugene for reasons that are still unclear.
Emergency callers reported seeing a naked Eugene swinging from a light pole minutes before the attack. Surveillance video from the nearby Miami Herald building showed Eugene stripping Poppo and pummeling him. A witness described Eugene ripping at Poppo's face with his mouth and growling at a Miami police officer who shot and killed Eugene. Autopsy results are pending. A close-up photograph of Poppo showed the upper two-thirds of his face covered in scabs and grafts. He's missing his nose and both eye sockets were covered, the left with gauze and the right with a flap of skin from his forehead and scalp. His gray beard was trimmed, leaving a mustache over his upper lip.
"It's hard when he smiles to see who he is," said Wrood Kassira, a University of Miami plastic surgeon at Jackson. He also suffered two puncture wounds to his chest and a brain injury similar to what happens after a car crash, Namias said. Poppo previously survived a gunshot wound. Social workers will help try to help him find a place to live. He has been homeless for nearly 30 years, and he has faced multiple charges of public intoxication, among other arrests. According to the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, the last time Poppo sought help finding a place to sleep was in 2004.
"If he doesn't get his vision back then it becomes, is he concerned about how he looks or is it more about how the world sees him? Those are things to think about," Kassira said. "I've talked to him about reconstruction and he's said we'll take it one day at a time," Kassira said. "He's very logical." Poppo has talked about swimming, which he used to enjoy, and he has requested pizza, orange juice and Italian food to eat. He's asked for the television to be turned off in his room, unless it's tuned to Miami Heat basketball games, Namias said.
The doctor said Poppo hasn't once complained about his pain. "He's really just sort of living in the moment and just wants to talk about routine things," he said. A fund established by the Jackson Memorial Foundation to assist Poppo has raised $15,000. Poppo also qualifies for Medicaid and Medicare, hospital officials said.