Saturday 20 December 2014

Life with vision deterioration

Gerry with his dog Orva

Affecting many people, vision loss can be a major challenge in many different ways

It's one of the most important senses: all the beauty of the world is lost to you when your vision goes.

THE blow came when Gerry Kerr's teenage daughter changed her hair-colour from red to blonde – and Gerry couldn't see it. It was a watershed moment for the 49-year-old father of two; a huge turning point in his life.

A teacher who'd spent much of his career working with young offenders, Kerr's sight had been slowly deteriorating for years – but the hair-colour incident was what finally hammered home the fact that he was now one of the estimated 224,000 people in this country affected by vision impairment.

"I could see my daughter's outline and the shape of her head but the colour was gone," he recalls.

"I realised I'd been in denial; that I'd been pretending that I could see, when I could really only see outlines. That was the big shock," observes Gerry, now 60, from Ballygall, Dublin.

It's believed there are about 3,500 people in the country with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a genetically inherited disease of the eye that causes a narrowing of the degree of vision, over a period of time, to tunnel vision and eventual blindness.

However, says Avril Daly, Chief Executive of Fighting Blindness, RP is only one of a huge range of eye conditions causing problems for people of all ages.

Many eye problems are linked to ageing – statistics show, for example, that the condition Age-Related Macular Degeneration affects one-in-10 people over the age of 55.

Another growing concern is the increase in diabetes, which can cause sight impairment, says Daly. Diabetic Retinopathy is believed to affect some 60,000 people.

For Kerr, the acknowledgement that he was slowly going blind was like a bereavement:

"I was very upset by that – it's like the sense of loss when someone dies. You feel like a part of your heart is missing, you feel an emptiness.

"Your vision is very important to you; it's one of the most important senses because all of the beauty of the world is lost to you when it goes."

A few months after the hair colour incident, Gerry had to resign from his job, and, at just 49, was catapulted into a whole new life.

His condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic disease of the retina that results in steadily deteriorating sight, had been diagnosed some three decades ago following a near-accident when Gerry was in his early thirties.

He recalls that first warning: "When I was driving into town one day, I turned a corner and just missed hitting a pedestrian who'd stepped off the pavement."

Concerned by the fact that he hadn't even seen the person, Gerry consulted an optician, and then a consultant.

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