September charity news – Dorset Blind Association
“Nothing’s stopping me now”
Angie Flake, 54 from Dorset, explains how Dorset Blind Association is helping her get the most out of life
Being a bridesmaid and watching her big sister get married was a memorable moment for nine-year-old Angie Flake. But 45 years later, it’s an occasion that sticks in her mind for another reason. “I remember waking up and realising I couldn’t see properly in my right eye,” she recalls. “I didn’t want to spoil the day, so I kept it to myself.”
Angie had experienced extreme short-sightedness from a young age, attending appointments at the eye hospital from 18 months old. Her father and sister also experienced short-sightedness, which the family put down to bad luck. Then, at nine years old, she was diagnosed with a detached retina in her right eye.
“A few months after the wedding, my mum was shocked when the doctor told her I couldn’t see in one eye. By then, unfortunately, there was nothing they could do, so I just had to manage as best as I could.”
However, when Angie was 13 years old, she suffered a detached retina in her remaining eye. “I was very worried and didn’t want to be left blind, so we headed to the hospital straight away. Fortunately, they were able to save some of my eyesight with an operation, although the eye was left very weak.”
Over the years, Angie’s eyesight declined with age and she also developed glaucoma, a condition more likely to develop in those who are short-sighted, usually due to a build-up of pressure within the eye. “I have found it difficult to find employment and, because my eyesight was so poor, couldn’t learn how to drive. I have also really struggled to stay independent, as it is difficult to get around, which is the hardest thing for me.”
Both Angie’s sons also inherited her short-sightedness and, in 2000, when her grandson went to have his eyes checked, a doctor suggested her family may have Stickler syndrome, which is a group of hereditary conditions affecting connective tissue throughout the body that can lead to eye abnormalities, hearing loss and joint problems.
“The doctor suggested our family’s eyesight problems could be a symptom of this and had us all tested, which confirmed the diagnosis,” Angie explains, “I’d never heard of it, but it explained why I developed arthritis at just 40 years old, which is another common symptom.”
In 2009, Angie developed further problems with her vision when she had surgery to remove cataracts. “I now have what they call useful vision in my left eye, but it’s quite distorted. I have lots of blind spots and don’t have close-up vision – I can basically only see up in the left corner of my eye.
“Unfortunately, the doctors are also struggling to keep the pressure down from my glaucoma. If they can’t I will lose my sight entirely. My specialist said a couple of years ago I would be lucky if I had any sight left in five years, so I want to get out and make the most of the vision I have while I can.”
In 2009, while looking for new things to get involved with in the area, Angie came across Dorset Blind Association. She now plays visually impaired tennis and takes part in acoustic shooting, where participants shoot at targets guided by noise.
“I’ve found I’m quite competitive and it is my ambition to go into national competitions next.”
Angie also meets up with members to chat once a month. “My friends are my biggest support and I’ve made quite a few through the charity. Finding Dorset Blind Association has been amazing – they have widened my social circle and got me to try new things, which has helped me get more out of life.”
Dorset Blind Association – THE FACTS
- Dorset Blind Association provides practical and emotional support, tailored to the individual, for anybody who wants it, as long as it is needed, to enable people with sight and/or hearing loss to lead full, independent and socially active lives.
- Over 30,000 people in Dorset have severe sight loss.
- The charity helps 1,000 people every month, powered by over 400 volunteers.
- It needs to fundraise £380,000 per year to pay for 100 per cent of its services.
- 90p of every £1 raised goes directly to helping people.
BIG GIVE UPDATE
The £19,029 raised by Dorset Blind Association in The Candis Big Give 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, to help reduce their feelings of isolation.