Galway woman refuses to let her reduced eyesight inhibit her zest for life – Connacht Tribune – Galway City Tribune:
Kathleen Kennelly-Gorman was just 14 when the reality of an inherited genetic eye disorder hit home. Stargardt’s disease meant she had lost her central vision and had limited peripheral vision. His father has it, as do three of his sisters.
“For me, it’s almost like there’s a veil over my eyes. Everything is blurry,” she explains. “I have to maneuver my head and my eyes to focus on things to get the most out of my peripheral vision because I don’t have central vision. I would have to bring things directly to me, I would be like Mr. Magoo.
When they were diagnosed while living in Buttevant, North Cork, her parents went into denial. “It was a deep, dark secret in the family. We weren’t allowed to tell anyone. Years ago I thought they were mean. But it made us very, very independent at the end. Instead of pampering us, they made us very strong.
When Kathleen was told she couldn’t do her Leaving Cert due to loss of sight, she refused to accept that she couldn’t continue her education.
She emigrated to the United States where sight loss aids were much more advanced. She graduated from American high school. She went to college to train as an esthetician or beautician and eventually graduated as a massage therapist.
“I took a very in-depth course outside of San Francisco that covered nutrition, anatomy, psychology, and wellness. I have readers, extra time for exams. It was in the 1970s. 80 and it was just too hard to study here.
She moved to her then-husband’s hometown of Portumna in 2001 and never left.
“I would be foolish to leave Portumna. I’m almost stuck in everything. I do line dancing, I’m in Tidy Towns, Active Retirement, ICA. I am a volunteer facilitator with the NCBI [National Council for the Blind of Ireland] Local advocacy network.
Kathleen does not have a guide dog and only uses a cane if she is going to Galway or an unfamiliar city. She knows her way around Portumna and walks everywhere.
“It’s very easy to get around, very accessible. Everyone knows me. I do my shopping myself even though I often come home with the wrong item. My son mostly drops me off at the supermarket and takes me home. Sometimes, if friends go there, they will ask me if I want to come. I’m crazy about the road.
In her spare time, she rides tandem bikes and hikes with the Galway Visually Impaired Activities club established in 2006. They usually cycle on Sundays in Connemara and hike on different trails on Saturdays.
Kathleen spoke to the Connacht Tribune during a week-long cycling trip to Benidorm in Spain with twelve band members.
“We have a pilot, who is a sighted person who takes care of the trains, the direction and the signalling. We are called drivers who pedal like crazy.
Stargardt disease is caused by a recessive gene that affects the x chromosome. As a result, she did not pass the condition on to her son or daughter who is now in her early twenties.
Thanks to advancements in technology, she can watch TV, read books, track text messages and emails with audio description.
All the latest innovations will be among the many topics discussed at this year’s annual Retina Conference for people with sight loss and their families. The latest figures show that there are around 272,000 people in Ireland living with blindness or visual impairment.
It returns to Dublin on Saturday November 5 for its first in-person event since 2019, spokesperson Don Delaney reveals.
“Retina brings the vision loss community together with leading experts to learn about the latest treatments revolutionizing eye care, to learn about the range of supports people can access, and to share stories and gain support from other people on a similar journey.
“It provides an ideal opportunity for participants to ask the experts about their own condition and learn about promising developments taking place across a range of disease areas.”
Registration for the free conference which will be streamed live is open at fightblindness.ie.