July charity news – Dorset Blind Association
“Having a friend to talk to is priceless”
Mark Harrison, 35, from Dorset tells how Dorset Blind Association has shown him he can still live a full life, despite being vision impaired
When Mark Harrison first started experiencing blurred vision 12 years ago, he didn’t anticipate how quickly his eyesight would decline. “I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was five years old and, unfortunately, I didn’t alwayslook after myself as I should, so knew I might experience eye problems at some stage,” says
Mark, 35. “However, I didn’t expect it to happen at such a young age and went
into a sort of denial, not wanting to admit to anyone my eyesight was going.”
A few months later Mark attended a routine eye check where he was told he needed treatment for cataracts – which occur when changes in the lens of the eye cause it to become less transparent, resulting in cloudy vision.
“I had both my cataracts done over the space of two years, but my eyesight continued to deteriorate.
I was then diagnosed with advanced diabetic retinopathy, which is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the retina,” says Mark. “Over the next few years I was prescribed several sessions of laser treatment to help treat the growth of new blood vessels at the back of the eye and stabilise the condition, which initially improved my vision.”
Unfortunately, Mark’s sight soon began to worsen, and he was told as he had already had so much laser treatment, which causes a build-up of scar tissue at the back of the eye, it wouldn’t be possible to have this done again. “Although technology is moving on and you can never say never, at the moment there isn’t anything more that doctors can do,” he says.
Mark is now severely sight-impaired, although he has a very limited field of vision. “Although I am technically classed as blind, I can make out movement if something is right in front of me, as long as it’s fairly large.
“I had to give up my job in the charity sector three years ago because of my eyesight and have struggled to find other work, which has been really difficult. I am still quite young and want to be out making a living and supporting my wife and two sons, who are four and 11. Giving up work and losing my driving licence have been the two most difficult things, as I feel I have lost a lot of freedom.”
Mark’s sight loss has also had an impact on his friendships and family life. “My friends and I have had to find different ways to spend our time as I can’t do things such as fishing, which we used to enjoy.
I have also missed out on things I would like to do with my sons, such as watching my 11-year-old, Charlie, play football, or even just helping out with homework.”
Last summer, Mark came across Dorset Blind Association when he was looking for voluntary work online. “I was invited to take part in a fundraising skydive for the charity, where I met people who use their facilities. Since then, I have got involved in a ‘buddying’ scheme, where I visit an elderly gentleman in a care home once a week.” Mark also volunteers at one of the charity’s social clubs for people with sight loss, which meets once a month. “I go there to chat to people in a voluntary role, but I also get a lot out of it myself. I have had the opportunity to take part in new activities, such as acoustic shooting, and I’ve also made some really good friends.”
Mark is also learning how to use a computer and keyboard and specialist talk software. “Dorset Blind Association put me in touch with all the right people, who then facilitated my training. It’s all about forgetting the old and trying to learn the new.
“Finding the charity has been amazing, as it helps me to stay busy and gives me purpose, which is really important. It’s easy to become isolated if you have health issues of any type – particularly if you’ve had to give up your work – and that’s not a good place to be. Having people around you to talk to and who understand is absolutely priceless. It has helped me more than I can say.”
Dorset Blind Association – THE FACTS
- Dorset Blind Association provides practical help and emotional support to enable people with sight loss to stay healthy and live independently. ● Almost 35,000 people in Dorset have severe sight loss.
- The charity helps 1,000 people every month, powered by more than 400 caring volunteers.
- It needs to fundraise £400,000 per year to pay for its services.
- 84p of every £1 raised goes directly towards helping people.
- To donate or volunteer visit dorsetblind.org.uk
BIG GIVE UPDATE
The £28,148 raised by Dorset Blind Association will cover the running costs of 25 social and activity clubs – including dance, sport, craft and audio book clubs – for people with sight loss in Dorset. These clubs will help to reduce isolation and improve quality of life for those who attend.
As told to Hannah McLoughlin
Photos Nick Dawe