MIAMI, Fla. — Ronald Poppo, the homeless man left in critical condition 17 days ago in a bloody attack by the so-called Causeway Cannibal, knows that at least half his face was chewed off, one eye was gouged out and he may be blind in the other, his doctors said Tuesday.
In an attack that made headlines around the world, the 65-year-old also suffered a brain injury, a broken rib, and may have been wounded by a bullet fired by the Miami police officer who killed his attacker, doctors revealed. Miami police said Tuesday they had no comment on that possibility.
Still, Poppo's physicians at Jackson Memorial Hospital said he is eating well, not complaining of pain and was looking forward to listening to the first game of the NBA Finals between Miami and Oklahoma City.
"Before I left the room to come down here today he asked me if I'd be watching the game tonight and he told me "Go Heat,' " said Nicholas Namias, a University of Miami physician and director of Jackson's Ryder Trauma Center.
"He is honestly living in the moment. And I don't think I've said this about anyone before, but he's charming. He really is."
In a 45-minute news conference, doctors displayed an hours-old photo of Poppo that shows him with flaps of skin sewn over his eyes, his forehead raw and dappled with scabs, and his nose a mass of disfigured cartilage and bits of skin. Only his mouth, his gray mustache and chin remain undamaged.
Poppo was injured May 26 after police say Rudy Eugene, 31, found him dozing on the MacArthur Causeway, severely beat him, and then spent several minutes chewing on his face. Police speculate that Eugene may have taken a craze-inducing drug. Toxicology results are pending.
Pictures of Poppo were circulated on the Internet within hours of the assault, and the gruesome nature of the attack made it both a horrific sensation and the subject of late-night television jokes.
Poppo is well aware that images of him — both before and after the attack — have been seen by millions, said Wrood Kassira, a plastic surgeon treating him. "He has asked me, what does the media think about him, and what are their thoughts and how are they portraying him," Kassira said. "I said you are a victim of violence."
Once a promising student at prestigious Stuyvesant High School in New York, Poppo dropped out of college and has been living on the streets for about 30 years, according to relatives who thought him dead.
Doctors said they do not know what Poppo's future may hold, but for now he has weeks of hospitalization and many surgeries to endure before he can be released.
"He can touch his face," Kassira said. "He can feel what's missing."
Kassira said she has talked to Poppo about reconstructive surgery. The goal, she said, "is to restore as close to what he had before." He could end up with a prosthetic nose if what is left is too damaged, she said.
What she can not gauge, said Kassira, is how concerned Poppo is about his appearance. "If he doesn't get his vision back, is he more concerned about how he looks, or how the world sees him?" Kassira said. "Those are things to think about with a psychiatrist and mental health workers.
"He says we'll take it one day at a time. He's very practical."
Poppo is taking oral antibiotics to prevent infection, but no other medication, doctors said. He asks for orange juice, pizza and other Italian food.
One brother has been in touch with hospital officials, but no other relatives have visited or called, they said.
Kassira said she has the impression that Poppo — shot once before, in 1976, and arrested many times for drinking and vagrancy — enjoyed his life on the streets.
"He was content in life, swimming in the ocean, getting sun," Kassira said. "But he is not complaining now. He is not a hysterical patient. He's amazing. I don't know how to explain it."
Doctors not involved in Poppo's care have estimated that depending on the number of surgeries he undergoes, and the length of his rehabilitation, expenses could total as much as $1 million. Poppo does qualify for Medicare and Medicaid, hospital officials said.
The costs will be covered by taxpayers and by donations made to a fund set up by the hospital. The fund now contains $15,000, officials said.
For information about contributions, go to the Jackson Memorial Foundation website at http://www.jmf.org, and click on Take Action Now.