Australian eye surgeon Fred Hollows dedicated his life to restoring sight to the unnecessarily blind. Hollows began his work in 1970 with the Gurindji communities in the Northern Territory, with his life-changing work now reaching communities in over 25 countries.
Since Hollow’s passing in 1993, The Fred Hollows Foundation has continued to champion his vision, with the foundation having helped to restored sight to over three million people globally since 1992.
Big Brother star Regina ‘Reggie’ Sorenson has had first-hand experience of the life-changing benefits of vision restorative procedures; having underwent the removal of two cataracts after being diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye condition known as retinitis pigmentosa.
Now to Love sat down with Reggie to chat about The Fred Hollows Foundations upcoming Fred’s Big Run campaign, her journey with vision loss, and life after the Big Brother house.
You’ve partnered with the Fred Hollows Foundation for this year’s Fred’s Big Run, what inspired you to get involved with this initiative?
They approached me last year, but I couldn’t do it due to my contract after my Big Brother appearance so when they had the opportunity to ask me this year, I said yes. When they asked me to jump on board, I was proud to do it. I feel like it fits me as well. I’ve had cataracts removed and I know what it’s like to live with them as well.
Given your personal journey with retinitis pigmentosa, the Fred Hollows Foundation must hold significant meaning for you. Could you share a bit about why this cause is so close to your heart?
It’s really horrible living with blindness and low vision. When I did have cataracts on my eyes, I had them on there for quite a long time until I had them removed. I remember when I was at the ophthalmologist, and he said to me ‘It’s like someone got a spray can and sprayed the back of your eyes.’ That’s sort of how you describe what it’s like when you’ve got cataracts. I’ve had both of mine removed now and it’s made a massive difference to my freedom. The foundation are helping so many people around the world to restore that sight when there’s no need for them to be living with blindness.
A few days ago, you celebrated one year since your last season and 20 years since you first won Big Brother in 2003. Your life has changed a lot since then. What has been the most significant change?
It’s flown! I put up a post for the one-year anniversary and then I went “Oh s—! My 20-year anniversary is coming up.” It was awesome to look back and think “Wow, what an achievement over these years to have done what I’ve done.” So much has happened in between. They were both very different seasons as well. My first one was [because] I wanted a holiday and that’s all I wanted and then ended up winning the show! I was so happy to get invited back to do this last one and ended up taking it out again. I didn’t think that would be possible. I think I’m more proud of the last one because of my eyesight. I’ve only got nine degrees of pinhole vision left and to do all those challenges against everyone else who didn’t have any issues. I gave it my best and I was so proud of that, but it was definitely a lot harder.
Looking back on your first season of Big Brother, if you could tell yourself anything about that experience from where you are now, what advice would you give yourself?
Not to trust too many people! [There are] a lot of scammers in the world out there. I’ve learned a lot over the years. I wish I wasn’t so naïve back then.
How has your time on the show impacted or shaped your life in the years that have followed?
It’s really weird because I’m probably one of the only housemates that have stayed in the spotlight over these last 20 years. The public has always been interested in what I’m doing and that’s been fascinating. To this day, people just love to come and say g’day and have a chat to me.
It’s lovely that people still come up and talk to you all these years later. Do you think there was something special about your first experience on Big Brother that continues to resonate with people?
Definitely. I’m such a down-to-earth person and I say it how it is. There’s no b—–t with me. I speak my mind, but I don’t do it in a nasty way. It’s just who I am, and people love the fact that I’m so honest. I think also, being the little Aussie battler, I resonated with a lot of Australians.
You recently shared that you were diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, yet you continue to maintain such a positive outlook on life. How do you continue to find these positives amidst life’s challenges?
Look, I’ve got to try and stay positive. When I found out last year that they found my genetic link [for retinitis pigmentosa] and it was Usher Syndrome, that just floored me and I thought ‘Oh my god, I’ve got to pick myself back up again.’ It’s another hurdle, and I just have got to get over this hurdle and just keep going. When things like this happen, I like to be able to raise awareness for these things because a lot of people have no idea what they are. They’ve got no idea what Usher Syndrome is. They’ve never heard of it. I’m blessed to be able to use the platform that I’ve got to raise awareness for a lot of issues. Now I’m able to do Fred Hollows’ Big Run and raise awareness about cataracts and blindness and it’s good that I can do that. I struggle, but I’ve got to try and stay positive. I’ve been down the path where I had a bad depression many years ago, and I just never want to go back down that hole ever again. I always think there’s someone [that’s] worse off than me in the world, but I’ve just got to keep on going. I just can’t give up. Times where you think ‘Why is all this s— happening,’ but there’s a reason for it all. Maybe I’m here to tell the world and raise awareness for it all.
You also shared that you have a bucket list that you and your two kids are going to tick off. Have you been able to tick off anything exciting so far?
I went to Darwin at the beginning of the year and went to see the Croc-osaurus. I went and got in the tank with these big crocodiles, and that was something I wanted to do. I’d love to take the kids around Australia, and I’d love to go swim with whale sharks. I still want to get this bloody book happening! I’ve started and then it stopped because things have been getting in the way, so I’ve got to get motivated again to get my mind into that place of writing it all down.
What’s the next thing you’re ready to tick off?
I’m making a documentary at the moment on my life. We’ve got quite a bit done actually so hopefully, we’ll get that finished before the year is out and hopefully get it on the screen. I don’t want to talk too much about it because I’ll spoil it! Once it’s all put together, I really hope that someone picks it up so everyone can see it. I’d also love to do some more reality TV, so that would be awesome.
**Want to join the over 3500 people on their run to restore sight? Sign up for Fred’s Big Run and support The Fred Hollows Foundation in their mission to prevent blindness.
For more information, please visit the website.**