OCT 2012

EyeWorld is the official news magazine of the American Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgery.

Issue link: https://digital.eyeworld.org/i/87458

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Page 156 of 168

Book review: How to Survive Losing Vision by Michelle Dalton Contributing Writer Helen J. Harris recounts her struggles with retinitis pigmentosa and the drive that helped her create RP International H elen J. Harris may well be remembered most for her enthu- siastic, positive attitude about retinitis pigmentosa, as well as being the founder of RP International, a non-profit dedicated to finding a cure for the devastating disease. But only by reading her autobiography, peppered with original poems and reproductions of her paintings, does one realize Ms. Harris' embarrass- ment as a child, her pride in refusing to ask for help until her eyesight was almost completely gone, and her wish to be able to see again. She might have continued suffering from her disease in silence had she not realized she had passed the disease onto two of her three children. Hence, in 1974, RP International was founded. Ms. Harris began noticing her vision was "not right" in her early childhood years—years marked by skinned knees, a debilitating fear of walking anywhere at night (due to night blindness), and several emer- gency room visits after falling or tripping in broad daylight—but found solace in being recognized as a talented artist. She allowed others to label her a klutz rather than admit 24 Ophthalmology Business • October 2012 she could not see. Her description of her descent into darkness is particu- larly poignant, given the accolades she'd received as a painter: "Imagine the horror of being a talented artist, someone whose greatest joy is to pick up paintbrushes and express emotions on canvas, only to have that gift slowly and insidiously extinguished by darkness—a blind- ness that begins almost impercepti- bly in the early years of life, which gradually closes your peripheral vision, making your world smaller and darker with each passing year until only a tiny pinhole of light remains." With more than 30 million peo- ple in the U.S. suffering from some type of retinal disorder, Ms. Harris believes a lack of general awareness of RP is what has hampered patients

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