Orlando Sentinel, Florida.
Friday, May 05, 2006.
A child is born. Like a flower, her senses open to a new and uncertain world. She sees more darkness than light, but time will lift the shade and let in the brilliance of the sun. Sight will bring in a chorus of colors for many. For some the darkness stays. For still others, the light is slipping gradually away.
My daughter, Cathy Keller, has retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Usher syndrome -- a disease that caused a moderate hearing loss and continues to steal away her sight. The Foundation Fighting Blindness supports research to find cures for retinal degenerative diseases such as RP and macular degeneration. And the results have been miraculous.
The Foundation Fighting Blindness has financed gene therapy research that has restored vision to more than 50 dogs born blind with the most severe form of RP, the same type that affects some newborns. Human trials on this promising therapy will begin soon. A man, blind since birth, with the aid of an implanted chip can now see light through a window and shapes of people. More advanced trials are planned.
A biotechnical company has developed a tiny capsule that delivers protein to the retina that has stopped sight loss in some. Research on transplanting artificial retinas to restore vision also shows promise. And the foundation supported the essential studies underlying both these treatments.
The work of the Foundation Fighting Blindness has gained the praise of leading experts. Morton F. Goldberg, M.D., a former director of John Hopkins' Wilmer Eye Institute, said the foundation supports the most fundamental research in retinal degeneration being carried out throughout the world. According to Stephen P. Daiger from the Texas' Human Genetics Center, more than 900 of the 1,000 most important scientific papers published in the past 15 years on inherited retinal diseases were supported by the foundation as well.
But moving from test-tube discoveries to human trials requires greater awareness of need and money. Cathy's daughter, Christy, was assigned a first-grade project to choose and talk about an American hero. Dressed in period garb, she told an audience of 100 how the late Helen Keller opened the eyes of the world to the trials and triumphs of the deaf and sightless. Cathy's son, Nick, was asked at school to choose and write about three things he would do with a million dollars. He wrote, "The first thing I'd do is donate money to find a cure for blindness." Mom is their hero.
For Cathy and the 9 million other Americans who are visually impaired, the foundation is conducting walks for vision throughout the country. The first will be in Orlando on Sunday. Its goal is to transfer the understanding and commitment of Christy and Nick to the general public. This is a critical first step on a sight-saving journey.
Jim Schott is a former superintendent of Orange County Publis Schools. He is the chairman of the Foundation Fighting Blindness' VISIONWALK.
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