‘I just wanted my sight fixed,’ a Ballincollig woman said, after two devastating blows to her vision

Mary Murphy went blind in one eye in her teens and later in life suffered another devastating blow to her sight, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
‘I just wanted my sight fixed,’ a Ballincollig woman said, after two devastating blows to her vision

“Thanks to guide dogs and long cane training from the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, Mary says she has regained a good degree of independence.” Picture: Stock

IMAGINE losing your sight in one eye and then, some years later, for the same thing to happen, without warning, in the other.

That’s exactly what happened to Cork woman Mary Murphy, who is appealing to the public to be aware of how things like bikes, bins, shopping trolleys and even buggies can be hazardous for the visually challenged.

Speaking ahead of an awareness day on fighting blindness, Mary recalled how her difficulties started when, aged just 17 and in fifth year, she suffered a detached retina and overnight went blind in her left eye.

Mary put that down to ‘bad luck’, and didn’t let it hold her back in any way, going on to study civil engineering and working for Aer Lingus for more than 20 years.

Tragically, bad luck was to strike twice and, in 1999, a detached retina in her right eye resulted in loss of vision and saw her life change dramatically.

At this stage Mary was married with two young children, aged three and five, and she remembers it as a “traumatic time”.

“I was referred to a specialist in Harley Street, London. I suppose I was in shock and didn’t focus on anything except getting my sight back. I just wanted it to be fixed,” the 53-year-old remembers.

After a number of weeks, her consultant did succeed in restoring some down vision in that eye.

“That means I can read, write, read and walk. But I can’t drive, and that’s what I miss most, and I had to give up work as well,” she said.

She admits, very honestly, that she had no other option but to adapt to what life had thrown at her and ‘get on with things’ as best she could.

“But naturally I miss the life I had,” Mary adds.

That was 20 years ago, and thanks to guide dogs and long cane training from the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, Mary has regained a good degree of independence.

“It was either that or give up; I realised these things could give me access to every day life once again,” she said.

“But you never get completely used to it, it’s just about making the best of it and living with it,” she said, adding that family support and her sense of humour has helped over the years.

Mary travels to London around four times a year for continual care and is now on her fourth dog since 2001. She says they literally have changed her life; ‘they become you.’ Freckles, a golden retriever, is her current dog and is from Togher-based Irish Dogs for the Disabled. She describes him as both the boss and the pet of the house.

Mary is an active member of the Fighting Blindness peer support group in Ballincollig. She first heard about the group through other people living with sight loss and has been taking part in the monthly meetings for eight years.

“Taking part in a group is great for moral support and it helps raise awareness around the issues facing people with visual impairments. Things like accessible venues, pavements blocked by obstacles like parked bikes and inconsiderate road-users — I was very nearly knocked down by a cyclist recently whilst trying to board the bus. People don’t realise, and when they do, they don’t know what to do or say,” she said.

Meanwhile, a range of eye experts will be on hand at Fighting Blindness’ Public Engagement Day on Saturday, November 16 in Dublin.

There are around 246,000 people in Ireland who are blind or visually impaired, yet approximately 75% of sight loss is preventable.

For Kevin Whelan, CEO of Fighting Blindness, it’s not just an opportunity for people with sight loss to learn from the experts, but for the experts to learn too: “This is a pretty special opportunity for people with sight loss to be able to hear the latest developments on advances being made to improve and ultimately cure various types of sight loss.

“But, perhaps equally special, is the opportunity for some of the world’s leading researchers and clinicians who have come to Dublin, to be able to gain insights first-hand from people with rare conditions on the challenges they face.

“Retina 2019 provides members of the public with an opportunity not only to ask their burning questions, but also to hear of the very positive scientific and technology advances being made at pace and to share perspectives and gain mutual support from others dealing with similar challenges to themselves.”

For more details Retina 2019 Public Engagement Day, visit www.retina.ie.

For more on Fighting Blindness support groups call 01 674 6496 or email insight@fightingblindness.ie.

Seven tips for safeguarding your child’s sight 

  1. Spend time in the great outdoors.

Research suggests that time spent playing outside contributes to a decrease in the risk of short-sightedness.

  2. Don’t leave them to their own devices. Teach your children to hold a smartphone or tablet at arm’s length from their eyes and encourage them to look away from the screen every few minutes.

  3. You are what you eat. It’s not just carrots that are good for children’s eyesight. Oranges, oily fish, peppers, eggs, dairy and nuts have some of the biggest health benefits for eyes. If your child has been diagnosed with a retinal disease, make sure to check with your doctor first as to the diet most appropriate for them.

  4. Sun’s up! It’s vital that children wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from the sun.

  5. Put them to the test. Ensure that your child has their first eye test from a qualified optician by the age of three years, and every year after that until they are 16 years old.

  6. Safety first. Physical activity and sport are important for children, but make sure they use safety eye wear that is appropriate for their sport to protect against eye injury.

  7. Be on the lookout. If you notice an inward or outward turning in a child’s eyes, delays in tracking moving objects, squinting or holding material close to their face, speak to your GP or optician.

Many conditions can be treated more effectively once picked up early.

More in this section

Sponsored Content