Real Life

‘I went blind overnight when my twins were four’

When single mum of twins awoke one morning with her vision virtually gone she didn't know how she would cope.

I’d been living with manageable vision issues when I went virtually blind overnight.

I had two four-year-old boys and I lived on my own with them when suddenly it felt as though my world came crashing down.

I was absolutely terrified and I didn’t know how I was going to cope with my sudden complete loss of vision, and with it my independence.

I’d had vision issues since my early twenties due to a condition called kerataconus, which makes everything incredibly blurry.

I had lost about 90 per cent of my vision in my left eye, but I could still read and drive because vision in my right eye was good.

In my early thirties I contracted glaucoma. It’s actually rare for someone to have both conditions and initially we managed it with surgical procedures.

I was living as a normal busy, single mum with my twins, Benjamin and Julian, when one morning I got up to go to a family function and I noticed that something didn’t feel right in my good eye.

It felt scratchy and sore, and my vision was incredibly blurry. Suddenly I could barely see out of either eye.

I thought I had an ulcer or something so I went to see my specialist who informed me that this was my condition worsening and it was permanent. It was only going to get worse.

The world as I knew it was over.

Karen with her twin sons.

Vision Australia sent an officer to train me how to do simple things that you take for granted, because suddenly I couldn’t even put a plug into a power point without a great degree of difficulty and frustration.

I couldn’t drive, and the thought of getting public transport was overwhelming. I became depressed as I just felt such a great amount of fear for our futures.

Initially, my family came regularly and helped us. They would stay over and ensure the house was clean and there was food in the house.

The council were also extremely helpful so I knew that the basics were taken care of, but my life had been so full before.

My world had become small.

I was so dependent on others and I felt incapacitated but it was my kids that kept me going. I told myself I could not just curl up in a heap.

I needed to be strong for them.

They were too young to really understand what was happening to me. I was still just mum in their eyes so for them it was just business as usual.

A mobility and orientation specialist from Guide Dogs Victoria and Vision Australia came to teach me how to use a long white cane. The cane took a while to get used to but as soon as I realised it was the key to my independence I embraced it.

Gradually, I became confident and I realised that I can go out on my own

Day by day, step by step, I realised that my life hadn’t changed that much. It was just different.

My biggest fear for my kids was being able to keep them safe. A mother’s instinct is to look after her children and I felt unsure if I could do it well now especially outside of the home.

Initially going out with them was frightening, but as I became more confident we were jumping on trains, and going on adventures together.

Now they’re nine and we are working better than ever as a team. They read me things, and help me as much as they can.

We recently went on our first overseas holiday together to Bali.

I’ve travelled a lot, and I truly desired my boys to have a full life and their excitement as the trip approached was incredible. All of us were just beside ourselves.

Bali was amazing. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. We stayed in a resort, and the boys had the time of their lives.

While we were there I’d hire a babysitter to come with us if we went out of the resort, just as an extra help for us and it worked so beautifully we’re planning another trip to the Gold Coast theme parks next.

Many people imagine going blind is the worst thing in the world and I admit, it has been hard, but there are many worse things that can happen to you.

After four years I’m now used to it I’m just getting on with my life with my kids.

October 15 is International White Cane Day. Visit Guide Dogs Victoriato find out more.

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