SYRACUSE, NY – Donna Reese of Syracuse didn’t often think about her eyes. With no family history of serious eye disease, she had her eyes examined occasionally.
Otherwise, she admits, she took her vision for granted – until she hit a shopping cart with her car, consulted a doctor, and was diagnosed with irreversible glaucoma.
Reese, 49, went on to develop problems with her corneas and is now legally blind. She uses five types of eye drops each day and faces the strong possibility that glaucoma will take her remaining vision.
Reese’s story is pretty standard, according to Dr. Maureen Wallen, O.D., of the Syracuse Community Health Center.
Wallen said glaucoma is called the “silent thief of sight” because there are no symptoms in its early and middle stages. By the time the patient notices a problem, as Reese did, the optic nerve is permanently damaged.
Reese and Wallen addressed about 30 people at a Glaucoma Awareness Expo on Jan. 12 at the Syracuse Community Health Center.
Both urged their audience to get regular eye checkups to catch the disease in its early stages.
“Glaucoma takes peripheral, or side, vision first.Only in the late stages does a person notice poor vision,” Wallen said.
According to Wallen, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, and the leading cause of blindness for African-Americans.
She said that 50 percent of cases go undiagnosed and 10 percent of people with glaucoma become legally blind.
Reese said she went through a period of denial after she was diagnosed and made appointments with several ophthalmologists.
“I needed someone to tell me this wasn’t true,” she said.
Later, when she was receiving services from Aurora of CNY and the NYS Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, she resisted Aurora’s offer of instruction in use of the white cane.
“I thought, if I use it, everyone will know I’m blind. Then I realized that I need this knowledge if I’m going to be independent and I am a very independent person,” she said.
Reese now works as an outreach specialist for Aurora.
“I’m happy that I’m able to help others through the agency that helped me,” she said.
Aurora of CNY is the only non-profit that works exclusively with people in Central New York who are deaf, blind, visually impaired or hard of hearing.
Aurora is a United Way agency of Central New York and Oswego and Cayuga counties.
For more information, call 422-7263 (TDD 422-9746).