In 2010, Ollie Cantos, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C., enthusiastically agreed to mentor 10-year-old triplet brothers. Also born blind, Cantos knew he’d have a lot in common with the boys.
The brothers – Nick, Steven and Leo – were born with retinopathy of prematurity, a disease that occurs in premature babies and causes blindness. Cantos was also born with the same condition.
The lawyer first heard of the brothers through a friend from church.
“He said he was losing sleep after he had learned that there were these blind triplet boys who had it really rough,” Cantos tells PEOPLE. “He had this feeling like I had to meet them. He also told me that they had never met someone else who was blind.”
The following week, Cantos went to visit with the boys and they had an immediate connection.
The brothers, now 16, tell PEOPLE that not only had they never met a blind person, but they rarely left their house – and at a few low points, Steven was suicidal.
Soon after he met the boys, Cantos realized he wanted to take the necessary steps to adopt them.
“I had three kids I care about, who I wanted to nurture on my own,” he says. “It feels like the time before them is one part of my life and now that I have them it’s a new part of my life.”
The adoption was soon finalized. Cantos shares custody with the boys’ mother – she says she is happy with Cantos’ role in her sons’ lives, but declined to comment. The boys live with Cantos on the weekend and stay with their mother during the week.
But that doesn’t stop Cantos from seeing them every day. After work, he takes two buses to see them.
“I head home so regularly late at night that I’ve gotten to know the bus operators,” he says.
A GoFundMe page was created to help Cantos with costs, such as tuition for four-year colleges for each of the boys.
Leo says that when Cantos came into their lives, he created structure and showed them a world of opportunity.
“We weren’t just bullied at school – we were bullied at church,” Leo tells PEOPLE. “Kids would say pretty awful things to us.”
Cantos knew how that felt.
“There were kids who would literally put their hands right in front of my face and say, ‘How many fingers am I holding up?’ ” Cantos shares. “Or they would put their foot in my way while I was walking down the hallway and I would trip.'”
While Cantos has taught the boys everyday tasks – from how to use to their canes, to cooking and doing laundry – he’s also taught them that their disability should never get in the way of their dreams.
“My life has been so blessed with these three,” Cantos says through tears. “My sons are such amazing human beings. They give with their hearts.”
As for the boys, they say they’re beyond grateful Cantos came into their lives.
“If dad weren’t here, two things would happen – either I’d be in a gang fighting people or I’d be dead. I had no other way of living, so escaping it would be better,” says Steven.
He adds,, “Our dad saved our lives.”