Working hard to fight blindness

Working hard to fight blindness

Every year, millions of lives are ruined or at least hampered as people lose their sight, something that can effect families and stop people doing the things they love.

Across the planet, experts are hard at work on new studies looking to identify the causes of many diseases and reduce the effect that they are having on people, while many organisations receive regular donations to help fund this research.

However, these smaller donations are often not enough to help get to the root of the problem, which is why larger benefactors are so vitally needed.

One of these is Dr Geneva Matlock, a retired anaesthesiologist and graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, who has a personal interest in curing one particular disease.

The expert was diagnosed with wet macular degeneration fourteen years ago and, through treatment, has been able to retain her vision and is still able to drive.

However, Dr Matlock"s mother, who died at the age of 99, was blind for the last decade of her life and, though she was never officially diagnosed, her family is of the opinion that she may have suffered from the disease as well.

This is why Dr Matlock recently contributed $4 million (£2.4 million) to the University of Louisville to fund research in macular degeneration, bringing her total contributions to the facility to more than $5 million in the past three years as she looks to continue her effort to fight the disease she believes took her mother"s eyesight.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in people aged 55 and over and often manifests itself gradually, with many failing to notice any symptoms at first, which makes it all the harder to detect.

Over time, as the retina degenerates, patients can begin to experience a loss of the sharp, central vision that allows them to see objects clearly.

There are two forms of macular degeneration - wet macular degeneration, which occurs when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid, quickly causing damage to the central retina.

Meanwhile, dry macular degeneration develops when the light-sensitive cells in the retina slowly break down, gradually blurring vision and also eventually leading to the loss of central vision.

Dr Henry Kaplan, Evans Professor and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences at the university, which will receive the donation, paid tribune to Dr Matlock"s generosity and devotion to find a cure for macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of global blindness.

"Dr Matlock"s extraordinarily generous support of our research in macular degeneration speaks to the compassionate and selfless person she is, both as a physician and as a human being.

"We continue to be humbled and incredibly grateful for the confidence she has shown in us," he explained.

His tribute was echoed by Dr James Ramsey, University of Louisville president, who said Dr Matlock is a "perfect example" of the university"s "family"

He noted that the facility"s graduates are well-known for making their mark on the world, before giving back to the university.

Such unselfishness creates opportunities for others and a chance to avoid some of the "terrible diseases" that experts are fighting every day, Dr Ramsay added.

Dr Matlock revealed that the personal quest at the heart of her donation will not be complete until major developments have occurred in the treatment of macular degeneration.

"I"m focusing on the eye because of my personal experience. I"m hoping that no one else will go blind as my mother did or as I probably would have if I were not getting the care I am now," she added.

As an estimated ten million people suffer from macular degeneration in the US alone, according to the latest American Macular Degeneration Foundation, and millions more round the world, the sooner a cure is found for the disease, the better. 

by Martin Burns

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