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Macular Disease Foundation Australia Ambassadors
Ita Buttrose

Jean Kittson

Jean Kittson is a multi-talented performer, writer and proud Ambassador of the Macular Disease Foundation Australia. 
Jean is an engaging speaker and gives a personal and wonderful insight into the impact of macular degeneration on the family. The Macular Disease Foundation Australia is very grateful to Jean for her Ambassadorial work and dedication in promoting the Foundation's important messages.

Jean's Story

My mother was diagnosed with macular degeneration about 16 years ago at which time she wasn't told what it was, she was only told that she would go blind one day and there was nothing she could do about it. Then she was sent home.

Although my mother has lost so much of her ability to do things like reading, which she was passionate about, driving and seeing the faces of her family, she now borrows talking books and is involved in many wonderful groups; bowling for the visually impaired, exercise classes and walking groups. 

Unfortunately my father has now been diagnosed and I have one uncle who also has macular degeneration. I am therefore keenly aware that along with age, your genetics also put you at risk. I am very concerned about the eye health of my family and care deeply about my children getting the disease.

My key message for everyone is get your macula checked and if you have someone in your family with macular degeneration, contact the Foundation and discuss your situation as they are warm and friendly and give invaluable information and great support. They make a huge difference.

Ita Buttrose

Jan Utzon

Jan Utzon is a Danish architect. The son of Jørn Utzon, with whom he worked closely on several prestigious projects, has completed a number of fine works of his own.
Born on 27 September 1944 in Stockholm, Utzon was brought up first at Hellebæk near Helsingør until the family moved to Australia in 1957. He studied at the School of Architecture in Sydney (1964–66) and at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen (1966–1970).

Deeply influenced by his father's approach to architecture, Jan Utzon soon began to collaborate with him taking on key supervisory tasks in major projects such as the Kuwait National Assembly Building. In many cases, it is difficult to estimate to division of responsibility in projects undertaken by Utzon Associates where Jan worked both with his father and his brother Kim. These include the Paustian House in Copenhagen and the Skagen Odde Nature Centre in the north of Jutland. Jan also set up his own design office on Funen where he authored many interesting projects. One of his most successful is the Performing Arts Centre in Esbjerg (1997) with its theatre and concert hall combined with the earlier art museum. Its large communal foyer catering both to the concert hall and the museum is particularly appealing and was achieved on a modest budget.

Utzon Architects and Johnson Pilton Walker, Architects in collaboration, have explored options to improve the existing Opera Theatre at the Sydney Opera House.

Utzon has also been active in the developing countries. Working for the Tvind concern, he built the Shamva, Zimbabwe, headquarters for the Humana People to People organisation, as well as a large training and conference centre at San Juan de las Pulgas near Ensenada in Mexico's Baja California (2008).

Jan's Story

For a considerable part of my life I have lived in blissful unawareness of the existence of the disease or affliction known as macular degeneration.

When my grandfather, Naval engineer and yacht designer Aage Utzon, gradually lost his sight in the late 1960's, it was accepted as something that could be expected when you grew older. I assisted him in a small way with some of his last drawings, cutting out of a carton the shapes I had drawn, so he with his fingers could access the shapes I'd drawn.

Not until my father, Jorn Utzon, began to feel the same symptoms at the turn of the millennium, did the term macular degeneration appear in the vocabulary of our family. Wet macular degeneration was the verdict. My father lived with a steady decline of vision the following years, until his passing in 2008.

Fortunately for me my father was very interested in the disease, and he often spoke about the way in which he saw the world around him, through his diseased eyes. He was in constant contact with the appropriate medical experts in this field in Denmark, where he lived the last 6 years of his life.

I remember my father telling me of the way he saw a lamp hanging from the ceiling. How he saw the cord coming from the ceiling, making a 90 degree horizontal turn, then a downward turn, another horizontal turn, (imagine a U-shape lying on its side) and finally ending with a vertical bit, from which the lamp was suspended.

Another instance was when he looked at me, and my ear appeared as big as my head. He saw persons in the street having two heads and, later in the process, he often saw things happening in a separate frame of his vision, which had nothing to do with the visual world around him. I remember him mentioning seeing a herd of what appeared to be cattle, followed by a group of Africans on the Savannah. It was as if a separate "movie" was being played in a part of his vision.

Fortunately my father was able to discern "fiction" from reality, and could keep working on our projects till the end of his life. As he and I had been working together for almost 40 years, we had developed an architectural rapport as it were, where his ideas and directives, through my hands, could produce the documents and drawings needed for the refurbishment of the Sydney Opera House.

Because of his analytical approach to his own condition, the rest of the members of our family became acutely aware of the trauma that macular degeneration can have on a person's life. As you can imagine I have become very aware of macular degeneration, and must accept that I have a hereditary risk of being afflicted with the disease myself, later in life. When I was approached by the Macular Disease Foundation Australia, to become an Ambassador for their cause (and mine), I immediately accepted and feel very honoured and proud, to have been chosen for this role.

I can only urge everyone to have their macula checked, and very importantly, urge our society to make a greater effort to find a cure for this disease, which unnecessarily disables many of our citizens, individuals who, if they could retain their eyesight, with their skills and knowledge could be of great benefit to our society.