POST Newspapers Online Perth, (Western Australia).
December 21, 2005.
When told 30 years ago to "get a good Braille teacher", Carole Holmes directed her energy into finding a cure for retinitis pigmentosa (RP) which now, at 59, has robbed her of her sight.
She helped set up the British Retinitis Pigmentosa Society in 1975 and, in the past 20 years, has raised more than £200,000 from the North-West of England to support sufferers and research.
While in Perth recently visiting a long-time friend who lives in Shenton Park, Carole had the chance to meet researchers at the Lions Eye Institute, who are world leaders in the use of gene therapy to reverse the condition.
LEI researchers, headed by Professor Elizabeth Rakoczy, have used gene therapy to reverse blindness in dogs and hope to be able to proceed to human trials on one type of RP soon.
Mrs Holmes said: "They have convinced me that we can be optimistic about finding a treatment for RP to help children keep their eyesight.
"It's very encouraging that while there's still much we don't know about the condition, researchers at the LEI and in Britain are at the forefront of finding a treatment."
Retinitis pigmentosa is an incurable, inherited condition where the retina at the back of the eye degenerates, causing progressive tunnel vision and eventually, blindness.
Loss of night vision can precede tunnel vision by many years.
In WA it affects one in 3000 people and in Britain about 10,000 have the condition.
Carole says many cases go undiagnosed in the early stages.
"In hindsight I think I was having problems seeing at night from the age of 18 or 19," she said.
"At night I would be missing the top step on the stairs and falling down and bumping into people in bad light.
"On a sunny day, my eyes would not adjust to the change in light when I went inside; my vision would stay fuzzy for a long time.
"If I told anyone this, though, they said I was daft and just clumsy.
"I had a drawer full of glasses which I didn't really need because I could see in the daylight, but no one picked up the problem until I was 29 when it was obvious my field of vision had narrowed."
Even then, knowing nothing of the condition, she expected it would be cured "with a little pair of glasses", she said.
She had to give up driving but over the next 10 years was able to continue working as a sales rep and ride a bike.
Since then her sight has deteriorated to the point where she has a guide dog to help her walk safely.
"I can see shapes but not details of faces and can read a book in good light using a strong magnifying glass," she said.
Mrs Holmes urged people not to ignore early signs of the condition for fear of losing their licence or job.
"There is a lot of help out there - if you deny it, you may end up having some awful accident," she said.
For more information on the condition contact the WA Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation on 9227 7585.
End of article.
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