Low Vision Patients Don’t Suffer Alone Thanks to New Support Group
A slip and fall with his face hitting a concrete step left David French with a detached retina in one eye and damage in the other. He now faces life with diminished or low vision. While not totally blind, French lacks the ability to make out objects a few feet away, read materials or see at night without the aid of powerful equipment.
French is one of more than 350 patients annually seen in the Low Vision Clinic at Harris Health System’s Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital. Patients suffering from congenital diseases like glaucoma or cataracts, diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration to victims of trauma or stroke get a chance to regain some vision independence.
Patients are evaluated and paired up with high-powered lenses like magnifying glasses, telescopes or electronic magnifiers. Additionally, they work with an occupational therapist who trains patients on the equipment or ways to maximize their vision levels. Now, patients also have access to a new support group where like-diagnosed patients can share and learn from each other.
“It’s a place where people are like you and you can relate,” French says. “It’s where if you make a mistake, you don’t have to worry because most of the people in the group are going to make the same mistakes. I don’t know what I’m doing all the time, so it’s good to be with others who don’t either.”
Regina Budet, occupational therapist, LBJ Hospital, and support group coordinator, says having patients learn and motivate each other is a major reason for the group.
“They need to know they’re not alone,” she says. “There are others facing the same issues they encounter on a daily basis. It’s also a great way for them to get out, socialize and talk in a comfortable setting.”
For French, opportunities to get out and socialize are few. He relies on others to drive him places. His nephew takes him out often. However, they limit their visits to locations, stores and restaurants French had frequented prior to his vision loss. In restaurants, he feels most comfortable when he knows the layout of restrooms and seating areas.
“I don’t ever want to walk into a women’s restroom,” he says. “That would not be good.”
The Low Vision Clinic, the only one at Harris Health, is in its third year of operation. Staff works with various organizations and agencies like the Texas State Department of Health Services to provide patients with free or discounted vision aids. Support groups and others training tools are funded through the Harris County Low Vision Project, funded by a Lions Clubs International Foundation SightFirst grant.
“With low vision, it’s hard to tell that other people have the same problem when you look at them,” says Dr. Bhavani Iyer, director, Low Vision Clinic, LBJ Hospital, and clinical assistant professor, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). “When someone’s completely blind, they look and act different. But a lot of times, people with low vision don’t act different or look different, but suffer silently.”
For his part, French is excited about the group and the arrival of a high-powered monocular lens set that he thinks will open up greater opportunities for independence and allow him to do more activities including one of his favorite pastimes of fishing.
“I’ll be able to see from two feet to infinity,” he gushingly says of his new eyepiece. “Right now, I can only think about how much I want to do what I used to do in the past. So when I get my new lenses, I’m going to explore and maybe go fishing again.”
For more information about the support group, call Regina Budet at 713-873-4728 or by e-mail at email@example.com