After 49 year-old Diana Williams woke up one morning suddenly unable to see properly in one eye – giving up driving, her job, and her home – she became determined for it not to change her life.
Now aged 62, and thanks to a Macular Society project funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, she is dedicating herself to supporting other people that are at risk of becoming socially isolated through sight-loss.
“I was 49 and living in Swansea when I woke up one morning without any central vision in my left eye,” she explained. “I’d always been in the caring profession and had always looked after all sorts of people, and had seen and heard of so many things that people go through but you never think any of it will happen to you, and a few years later exactly the same thing happened to my right eye.
“When I was diagnosed I felt lost for words. I left the hospital not knowing anything about it and not quite believing that I’d had it permanently and that there was nothing I could do about it. But eventually I realised that if I did have it permanently then I should just get on with life and focus on what I can do and not what I can’t do.
“Thankfully my husband found the Macular Society online and from there on I’ve been in constant contact with them. They were a great help when I was diagnosed, they explained a lot of things to me and within a year I started to attend a support group in Swansea.”
“One thing I had to change in my day to day life after my second eye was affected was that I used to volunteer at a charity shop, and I could feel myself making mistakes like giving out the wrong change. I ended up giving it up before they asked me to leave because I found that I couldn’t cope with it.
“Thankfully I can laugh about it, the number of times I’ve said hello to the wrong person, or tried to use a knife and fork on the pattern on a plate, or knocked things over, and things like that is surprising but I’ve learned to laugh at things like that.
“Eventually I moved to Lampeter, one of my children was in Lampeter University at the time and my husband and I would come and visit every now and again, and we liked it so much we moved to here.
“My condition has made me look at things differently – there’s always a way around things, things may take longer and be more frustrating but they can be done, and I can do it. I had to give up driving after a couple of years, but I can still get from A to B on public transport even if it takes a lot longer, especially in rural Mid-Wales.”
Living in Lampeter, with the support of the Macular Society, Diana successfully started a new support group for people in the area that is reaching as far as Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, and looking to reach out to the people that are most in need of support.
“I’ve met some people whose lives are torn apart because they can’t accept what they’ve got, I had one man who was practically trying to throw money at me to cure it! I told him that our group can’t do that but that we could help him to live with it. I had another lady who had cried for weeks and wouldn’t tell anyone, and after taking part in her local group she’s come to accept the condition.
“I tell everyone that I see about our meetings, that they’re about any form of sight-loss, and that anyone is welcome here to find out more whether you have sight loss or not. I feel that the more people that know about them then more people will be able to come along, and the more we can raise awareness of the condition.
“Some of the groups across Wales aren’t easy to get to if you don’t have transport, even around here as it’s so rural but when I moved to Lampeter I knew that St Thomas’ Church would be the right place as it’s in a town with flat land, and fairly easy to get to.
“I think this group in Lampeter has been a bit of an eye-opener for voluntary groups as a whole, it’s shown that we can hold successful support groups in rural areas.”
The Macular Society is using a grant of £348,272 through the National Lottery Community Fund’s People and Places programme over three years to deliver a pan-Wales project that is introducing volunteer-led services to reduce isolation and improve independence for people with macular disease.
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