Sight Seeker Long-time vision support group leader steps down

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Published on February 06, 2019 with No Comments

by Steve Euvino

After so many years, it’s time to take it easy. After nearly two decades as president of the Valparaiso Low Vision Support Group, Verne Sanford is stepping down.

Since 2002, Sanford has been making friends while working to help others, like himself, with vision problems. They’re not alone. According to the National Eye Institute, an estimated 135 million persons worldwide suffer a vision condition.

For Sanford, it all started in the early part of this century, when a minister at First United Methodist Church in Valparaiso saw a need for helping people with low vision.

As Sanford recalled, “I saw an interest and I liked it. It’s a place where people can come, get acquainted, and get some answers regarding vision.”

That started his involvement and leadership in the group, which has met at two Valparaiso sites, First United Methodist Church and Pines Village Retirement Communities, and now at Tradewinds Rehabilitation in the Ross Township section of Hobart and Banta Center in Valparaiso.

“We give information to people regarding low vision, for people with different eye diseases and conditions,” Sanford said. “People can learn from the group and slow down eye destruction.”

He added, “There’s a camaraderie in the group. You don’t feel alone anymore. People see other people with similar problems and they’re working to fight the problem together.”

A retired educator, Sanford has suffered from choroideremia, a hereditary condition, all of his 83 years. According to Fighting Blindness, choroideremia is a genetic condition characterized by progressive vision loss that mainly affects males. The first symptom of this condition is usually an impairment of night vision (night blindness), which can occur in early childhood.

Sanford’s condition is due to a degeneration of the specialized light-sensing photoreceptor cells that line the back of the eye.

Meetings feature guest speakers and printed material for distribution. Speakers address such topics as eye damage and cures, transportation, and related eye care equipment, including talking books. The group has also sponsored social outings, as well as a Christmas party, and had a float in the Valparaiso Popcorn Parade.

Transportation is a particular concern for those with vision issues, Sanford noted, because it directly impacts personal independence. Although Sanford drove as a teen-ager, he can no longer get behind the wheel.

Today, Sanford lives in Valparaiso with his wife of 60 years, Marie. The couple has five children, 21 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Sanford retired after teaching math at Valparaiso University for 27 years. Originally from Waukegan, Ill., he also tutored at the University of Michigan and taught at a business school in Boston. He spent much of his life in Grand Forks, N.D.

As to the group, Sanford noted, “I’ve learned a lot and I enjoy being with people and being able to help. I’ve learned how people handle different eye problems. It’s interesting to watch how people handle their conditions.”

Meetings may draw as many as a dozen people. Numbers vary, Sanford said, because people receive the information they need and then move on with their lives.

“We’ve got a little family of people with every eye condition,” Sanford said. “Some people come and cry, because they can’t do what they want to do. We try to talk them through this.”

Marie Sanford added, “It’s interesting to see how people solve their problems.”

She cited, as an example, how drivers and others who accompanied group members used to leave or go to another room when the meeting begins. Eventually, she said, those companions remained in the room to learn how they could better help their husband, wife, or friend.

For more information on the Valparaiso Low Vision Support Group, call 219-464-1867. The group is free and open to the public.

Verne Sanford, a retired educator, has stepped down as president of the Valparaiso Low Vision Support Group.

What is low vision?

Low vision is a visual impairment, not correctable by standard glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, that interferes with a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.

What causes low vision?

Low vision can result from a variety of diseases, disorders, and injuries that affect the eye. Many people with low vision have age-related macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy. Age-related macular degeneration accounts for almost 45 percent of all cases of low vision.

How many people have low vision?

Millions of Americans have low vision. About 135 million people around the world have low vision
What should a person do if he or she has low vision?

First, note the kinds of vision problems that are occurring. Some warning signs include the following:

Trouble reading, cooking, or sewing.

Trouble seeing because the lights don’t seem as bright as usual.

Trouble recognizing the faces of friends and relatives.

Trouble crossing the street or reading signs.

A person who is having these vision difficulties should immediately make an appointment with an eye care professional for an eye examination. If the person’s vision cannot be treated by conventional methods, such as glasses, contact lenses, medication, or surgery, then he or she should ask the eye care professional for information about vision rehabilitation. These services may include eye examinations, a low vision evaluation, training on how to use visual and adaptive devices, support groups, and training on how to perform everyday activities in new ways.

Source: National Eye Institute


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