To look at Denise Thompson and watch her navigate around a familiar place you would never suspect that she is seriously vision impaired.
Doreen and Edward Evenzki, her teammates on the executive of the Cariboo White Cane Chapter of the Canadian Council of the Blind, are also vision impaired.
They have all experienced vision loss in different ways and share their stories so that people in Williams Lake will understand the importance of having vision testing and participate in the meet-and-greet vision awareness events taking place in Boitanio Mall tomorrow.
Ed, the chapter president, will be 85 this spring and has dry macular degeneration. If he tilts his head sideways he sees a foggy image, using his peripheral vision but his centre vision is gone.
Blindness came on quite suddenly for Ed 10 years ago while driving between Medicine Hat and Calgary.
When he and Doreen arrived at their destination, Ed announced that he wouldn’t be able to drive any further and Doreen would have to take over.
“I couldn’t see from here to the door,” Ed points. “I have side vision now. But I’m like a turkey always twisting my head.”
Eventually, Ed says he will be totally blind.
“But I’ve lived so long in Williams Lake I pretty well know where I am. I put my hand on my wife’s shoulder and she leads the way.”
Ed’s easy-going manner is why Doreen and Thompson say Ed is the go-to person when it comes to helping others to understand and accept their blindness.
“He’s very good at talking to people about our club and recruiting members. He will talk to people on a street corner where I wouldn’t,” Doreen says.
“They wouldn’t hit a blind guy would they?” chirps Ed.
Thompson adds that Ed is very good at encouraging people with vision impairment to do more than they believe they can. “He’s basically our support.”
Thompson is going blind as a result of Type 2 diabetes, which she has had for about 20 years. Her form of vision impairment is called diabetic retinopathy.
The blood vessels behind her eyes grow abnormally and bleed into the retina.
She has had several laser treatments to help seal the blood vessels and reduce the chance of further bleeding but her eyesight continues to deteriorate.
She says her vision is similar to looking through a curtain with small holes cut out of it to see through. In the beginning she says people may not even notice that they are losing their vision.
“The brain does something special. You may be going blind and not even know it because the mind will blend the holes,” Thompson says.
Her blindness is to the point now where she can see colour if something moves but images of people and things are blobs. She can make out written words using a very strong magnifying glass and setting the print two inches from her eyes.
She is also now experiencing macular edema or swelling in the back of her eyes, which restricts blood flow and messages between the eye and brain, causing further vision impairment.
She says injections given into the eye to ease the condition didn’t work, so she has been given hormone injections which have caused cataracts.
“So I have extreme advanced cataracts,” says Thompson, who is on the waiting list for cataract surgery.
Doreen has glaucoma, resulting from a blockage in the circulatory system of the eye which causes a build-up of internal pressure on the optic nerve. It has been called the “sneak thief of sight” because there isn’t any noticeable discomfort or visual loss in the initial stages.
It is a simple test to detect glaucoma which, if treated early, can be controlled with eye drops, drugs or minor surgery.
Doreen says her glaucoma was controlled by eye drops for quite a few years, then lazer treatment gave her quite a few more years. She has had two major retinal surgeries on her right eye, but continues to have 20/20 vision in her left eye with the aid of glasses.
Doreen says Ed’s mother also had macular degeneration and their youngest daughter is also showing signs of the disease, so their whole family is very careful to have regular vision tests and eye examinations.
Like Ed, who relies on Doreen to get around, Thompson also relies a great deal on her husband to get around town.
Thompson says people often don’t realize how easy it is for someone with vision impairment to get turned around or disoriented on the street.
She asks that if people see someone with a white cane or wearing the distinctive black and white button with the checkered eye and words “low vision” on it to offer them a hand if they seem to need help.
People can learn more about their vision and visual aids available at the information day tomorrow (Friday) Feb. 10 in the upper level of Boitanio Mall from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
There will be demonstrations at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. by a trainer and puppy in training from the B.C. Guide Dogs/Autism Support Dogs organization in Delta; a chance to meet Tex the service dog and his master plus displays of assistive devices available for people with vision impairment and information on vision testing.