Bill Bovich, second from left, talks with Gail Cavanaugh about the DaVinci HD OCR product at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Fairfield. (Adam Smith/Daily Republic)


Low-vision group offers education, socialization

By From page A1 | March 12, 2014

FAIRFIELD — Sky Matthews longs for the day she can see her son and daughter again.

Her daughter still lives with her; her son is an adult and on his own.

Matthews is legally blind, the result of Leber hereditary optic neuropathy. The last time she saw the faces of her children, they were 6 and 11.

Blurring and clouding of vision are usually the first symptoms of the condition. Matthews noticed a gradual change in her vision. Within a span of about six weeks, she lost her vision.

That was about eight years ago.

The Vacaville resident was one about 35 people who packed into a room at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on Monday to hear about low-vision products. It also meant Matthews would be able to chat with her friend, Bev Duncan, who co-founded the low-vision support group that hosted the event.

Participants had a chance to learn about and “test drive” items such as a closed-circuit television with a 24-inch, high-definition monitor that can magnify type up to 77 times. It can also translate text into speech. An attached camera can rotate 340 degrees.

On a smaller scale, A&E Low Vision Products representative Gail Cavanaugh introduced a portable device that can magnify text up 13.5 times. It’s ideal for reading a price in the store or a menu in a restaurant, she said. It also features a freeze-frame image that can be saved and downloaded to a computer.

Matthews used a closed-circuit television early on. She’s since found a smartphone application that meets her needs by scanning the item and sending it to her laptop. Software will read her the document.

Fairfield resident Bob Broestler was diagnosed with dry macular degeneration a few years ago. He can still read and drive. Monday’s presentation gave him an idea of what’s out there if he needs assistive devices.

The condition makes it difficult to read or recognize faces because of the loss of vision in the center of the visual field. Peripheral vision remains intact. Broestler has given up night driving and needs extra light to read restaurant menus.

The National Eye Institute estimates about 1 in 28 Americans will feel the effects of low vision problems by 2020. In the vast majority of cases, the cause is age-related.

Matthews is one of the exceptions. She was 36 when she lost most of her vision. Like others at Monday’s meeting, she refuses to give into self-pity. She’s more isolated than before and refuses to sell her car.

“There’s nothing to describe it,” she said losing her sight. “If you’ve never had sight before, that’s one thing.”

She lives on five acres with a few animals.

“I’ve got everything I want,” she said. “I just can’t see it.”

Matthews follows research being done on her condition, with the goal of being able to see her children’s faces again. She hopes for more awareness about Leber hereditary optic neuropathy.

The low-vision support group’s mission is to help each other, said Bonnie Demuth, who co-founded the group.

That support is key. Once a person loses the ability to read, they often give up, Cavanaugh said. She’s working to educate doctors about what is available for those with low vision.

“A lot of my clients are seniors and not tech savvy enough to search the Internet for these things,” she said. With assistive devices, “They can still look at photos and read medicine bottles.”

There are those who hope for an improvement in vision, and are unwilling to try anything, she said.

The low-vision support group meets 2 p.m. the first Monday of each month at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 1600 Union Ave.

Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.

Low-vision facts

  • Low vision is a visual impairment, not correctable by standard glasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery, that interferes with a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.
  • Age-related macular degeneration accounts for almost 45 percent of low-vision cases.
  • A quick quiz on whether you have low vision: www.nei.nih.gov/lowvision/content/interactive/lvquiz/default.asp.

Source: The National Eye Institute

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey joined the staff of the Daily Republic in 1980. She’ll tell you she was only 3 at the time. Over the past three decades she’s done a variety of jobs in the newsroom. Today, she covers arts and entertainment and writes for the Living and news pages.

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