Briarna Dobson’s Journey with Stargardt’s Disease

Sarah LovejoyStargardt's Disease, Success StoriesLeave a Comment

Image from inside car looking out while driving

Ocutech would like to thank Briarna for sharing her story with Stargardt’s and how she gained her independence back with dedicated parents, doctors and Ocutech bioptics!

I always get asked, “What do you mean you’re blind, you look so normal?” Most people find it difficult to comprehend that you can look normal but be partially sighted. We are taught there are three types of vision: perfect vision, vision that requires correction with glasses or completely blind with no vision. So, I do understand the confusion some have when I try to explain my vision.

Losing My Vision

I was born fully sighted and had no issues with my vision. When I was 8 years old, I started struggling to see the board. We went to the Optometrist and I got glasses for reading and seeing the board. I went back yearly for routine check-ups and it wasn’t till I was 13 years old that the optometrist found something at the back of my eye (my retina), we then went to the ophthalmologist in Tauranga, where they referred us for more testing at the Retina Specialist clinic in Auckland.  This was when we were told…I had Stargardts.

My parents were devastated. They saw all the obstacles I would be coming up against, would I be able to finish mainstream education? Would I be able to drive? Would I be happy? I, however, didn’t have the foresight to think of any of that. I could see alright for the moment and that was all that mattered. A few months later I understood completely how my parents felt that day.

What is Stargardt’s?

Stargardt’s Disease is a genetic juvenile condition. It affects the macula in the retina. This is responsible for colour and central vision. This results in the whole image not being sent through the optic nerve to the brain. My brain then fills in the missing pieces and compensates with my peripheral vision. The loss of vision starts with puberty and gradually continues to progress through the teens and adult years. As if puberty wasn’t difficult enough.

Losing My Sight and Independence

Growing up I was a very active kid, I got involved in all the sports, netball, volleyball, water polo, hockey, and dance, to name a few. With the loss of my vision that was taken away from me, I no longer was able to play those sports or see the choreographer in dance training. Then it came to the age where I was faced with “you won’t be able to drive.” My friends were getting their driver’s licenses; they were independent and could go off when they pleased. They could get around and did not have to rely on anyone else.  These days were dark for me, it just didn’t seem fair as I could not be independent and have the freedom that comes with it.

My parents are continuously working to find the best tools possible for me to live life as a normal teenager. They are always researching Stargardt’s Disease and keeping up to date with everything and anything that could benefit my condition and my life.  My Dad came across a video on “stuff.com” of a guy who was visually impaired that was granted his license with a special pair of glasses, he was also from New Zealand and we immediately got in touch with him. He explained how he got the glasses and who to contact.

Finding Hope and Learning I Could Drive!

My Dad got in touch with Peter Neuhauser and Anna Megaffin from the Hamilton Branch Bell Neuhauser & (Matthews) Optometrist. Peter sounded so hopeful and it was really promising.  Although I did not want to get my hopes up too high. 

We went to Hamilton and they ran a few tests. We were then given the best news of our lives – with these glasses (Ocutech VES-Sport II) I could obtain my driver’s license!

Photo of the VES-Sport II Bioptic Telescope
The Ocutech VES Sport-II

The glasses are ordered from America, so I started to study the road code like crazy and after a few months of waiting, the glasses arrived and the very next day, I took my learner’s license test in 13 minutes and got 35/35 correct.  I now have my very own licence.

It really was the best day and feeling ever!

The past 4 years have been the longest and hardest years of my life, but after meeting Peter, Anna, and the team, my life has completely changed in the best way ever and my dreams have come true!

I am so grateful for all they have done and my Ocutech Bioptics!

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