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‘Experimental eye surgery saved me from going blind,’ reveals Irish Paralympian Greta Streimikyte at launch of ­Retina International World Congress


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The athlete from Swords, Co Dublin, who will compete in the 1,500m at this year’s Games in Paris, has lived with retinopathy since birth.

“If I had never had that opportunity for surgery, I probably would have been completely blind,” she said.

“It is so important to give those chances and hopes to people, because it can change their lives.”

The European Championships gold medal winner was speaking alongside her visually impaired Dublin teammate Orla Comerford as they face the final months of training for the Paris Games in August and September.

Ms Comerford, a sprinter who will compete in the 100m race, was diagnosed as a child with Stargardt’s disease, an inherited condition which impacts central vision.

“I was diagnosed when I was in primary school,” she said.

“I think for my parents to find out that their child has a vision impairment that they can’t fix, and that there’s no cure, must have been very scary. With Stargardt’s, my central vision is primarily affected, but I still have peripheral vision.

“As the condition is degenerative, and my eyesight is getting worse with time, I have no way of knowing how much eyesight I will have left in the future.

“In the meantime, I continue to live a full life, living each day as it comes, with the sight that I have, and looking forward to giving it my all in Paris this September.”

Both Paralympic athletes are ambassadors for the charity Fighting Blindness, which is hosting this year’s ­Retina International World Congress, with delegates from 23 countries coming to Dublin, where the newest research and technologies will be discussed.

They are both hopeful more breakthrough insights and treatments will come on stream in the future which they can benefit from.

Genetic eye specialist and ophthalmologist Professor David Keegan, of the Mater Hospital, said Fighting Blindness is helping people who have an inherited vision impairment with a genetic diagnosis. “Without that piece of knowledge, people won’t be able to access the sight-saving gene therapies that are coming down the tracks,” he said.

Dancer Jessica Kennedy talks about being diagnosed with Stargardt disease

“We are now able to access and deliver disease-changing clinical trials and provide in-country approved therapies with the approved centre for advanced medicinal product delivery.”

He hopes changes to reimbursement will help avoid the delays Ireland experienced in approval for the world’s first gene therapy for inherited sight loss, Luxturna.

Prof Keegan, whose work involves combating dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) said: “With more structure and resource, we could scale up meaningful interventional clinical trial activity in the field of retinal disease and other ocular conditions such as glaucoma and optic neuropathies.”

A public engagement day aimed at the sight-loss community is taking place today, where cutting edge research developments will be highlighted.

It is livestreamed with full details at fightingblindness.ie.

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