Celebrate gift of sight as long as possible

I have ARMD — age-related macular degeneration, which is why I was particularly happy to attend “Celebrate Sight,” the recent fundraiser of and for the Retina Foundation of the Southwest.
Here’s the Foundation’s succinct definition: “ARMD is a progressive, degenerative disease of the retina, the No. 1 cause of blindness for adults over the age of 50.”
For me, onset was sudden. One day I was looking at my computer screen when, suddenly, I saw that all the normally straight lines had become wavy! The next day I was in the office of a retina specialist for testing, diagnosis and immediate initial treatment.
I’m lucky; I have the disease’s “wet” form, which is far less common than the “dry,” but is treatable. This other — not so much. All proceeds from that big event — pushing $250,000 — will go toward a cure.
ARMD is genetically, but not particularly Jewishly, linked. Still, I’m proud that two couples from our community assumed leadership for this moneymaker. Dr. Harold and Judy Kaye, with Richard and Bobbi Massman, stepped up because of experiences: Richard’s mother, grandmother and other family members had this disease, so he’s had regular screenings for more than three decades; Judy has dry ARMD herself, and is betting on research to help her vision.
People cringe when I tell them that for about two years, I’ve been getting a regular monthly shot directly into my left eye. (There is little logic to ARMD; someone can be affected in one or both eyes, or can actually have both forms of the disease, one in each eye!)
This is not life’s most pleasant medical experience, but I’ve found it quick and painless because of excellent and easily applied anesthesia, and its after-effects are minimal and disappear rapidly. I had my final shot — at least for now — just two weeks ago; theoretically, these treatments can go on forever, but when vision has stabilized as mine has, current practice is to continue with regular checkups only. Lines stay straight now, and when I drive, I no longer feel I’m moving through a landscape of wavy telephone poles and trees that evoke a Japanese horror movie.
ARMD is the villain that affects the macula, the central point of the retina needed for images to focus clearly. The “dry” form’s symptoms are blurring, color loss, and need for more light. “Wet” gets its name from tiny blood vessels leaking under the macula. “Dry” sneaks up slowly; “wet,” like mine, presents with sudden onset. “Dry” is much more common, and much more likely to eventually cause total blindness. My late husband’s brother-in-law gradually lost all his sight because of this.
Although my family knows of no instances of ARMD, we’ve experienced something unusual and possibly genetically connected: My daughter was born without any central focal point on the retina!
This rare defect was identified early through pure dumb luck: An ophthalmologist friend was visiting when Devra, then a toddler, woke up during the evening and toddled into the living room. The doctor took one look, and treatment began the next day. A series of experiments involving flashing lights (Google “orthoptics” and “pleoptics” to find out more) attempted to build in what had been left out, but with only mild success; at age 55, Dev has minimal depth perception, but has compensated rather easily because she’s never known anything else. Here’s another compelling reason for me to be interested in retinal disease, and supportive of research into it.
The nonprofit Retina Foundation of the Southwest would like to hear from you: retinafoundation.org, 214-363-3911. May we all “Celebrate Sight” for the rest of our lives!

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