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Victim in good spirits despite damage to face

Ronald Edward Poppo -- possibly blind, horrendously disfigured -- is a happy man.

So say the doctors treating him at Ryder Trauma Center, who are amazed at his good nature.

"He has not said one thing that's negative," said Dr. Nicholas Namias, a trauma surgeon and Ryder co-director. "He's really just sort of living in the moment."

Doctors talked about their famous patient's condition on Tuesday for the first time since paramedics brought him to Ryder on May 26 from the MacArthur Causeway, where a crazed, naked man, Rudy Eugene, chewed off at least half of his face. Eugene was shot dead by police.

In a new development in the sensational case, the doctors described two puncture wounds on the left side of Poppo's chest, where he sustained a broken rib, raising the possibility that the Miami Police officer who killed Eugene might also have injured Poppo.

"It could have been an object. It could have been a bullet, but it's not an issue anymore," Namias said. "It's nowhere near the worst of his problems."

Poppo, an alcoholic street person, also suffered a short-term brain injury much like a car-crash victim would have sustained. The injury required several CAT scans and likely contributed to Poppo's initial confusion, Namias said.

Officially, Poppo's condition is stable, and doctors said he gave them permission to discuss his case with the media.

"He's doing well," said Namias, who answered questions alongside Dr. Wrood M. Kassira, the plastic surgeon rebuilding Poppo's face, and Dr. Jorge Delgado.

They displayed the first officially released photos of Poppo since the incident, and confirmed that unofficial photos taken immediately after the assault are genuine.

In the new photos, Poppo's face looks intact from the mustache down. A gauze bandage covers his now-empty left eye socket, and a flap of his own skin protects what's left of a damaged right eyeball.

Bloody scabs, raw wounds and skin grafts cover the rest of his face. He lost his eyebrows, part of his forehead and right cheek, and his nose.

To a great extent, Kassira said, how much reconstructive surgery he undergoes will be up to him. Medicare and Medicaid are paying for much of his care.

The doctors said that Poppo, who has been homeless for more than half of his 65 years, knows he might be blind. Surgeons removed his left eyeball, and no one knows if he has sight in his damaged right eye.

They said Poppo knows what happened, knows it's a huge news story, and that he's been portrayed as a victim of violence.

He's talked some about the past -- including his days at New York's prestigious Stuyvesant High School -- but not at all about the future.

"I've never used this word to describe someone before," Namias said, "but he's charming. He really is."

Poppo has two brothers and a sister who lost contact with him 30 years ago. He also has a daughter in New Jersey who was 2 when she last saw him, and has said she thought he was dead.