A tireless advocate
Australian journalist, editor and businesswoman Ita Buttrose has been Patron of Macular Disease Foundation Australia since 2005.
Ita was awarded the nation’s highest distinction – a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) – in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday honours.
She was Australian of the Year (2013); is an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE, awarded 1979) and an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO, awarded 1988).
Ita is the current Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
A family history
As Ita always says, her connection to macular disease is personal. Ita’s late father, Charlie Buttrose, had age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Three of his siblings also had it, including the youngest, her Uncle Gerald.
“My father was in his mid-80s when he lost his central vision to macular degeneration. It changed his life. As a journalist and author he had always started his day reading a couple of newspapers. Suddenly this was no longer possible.
“As a journalist and author myself I couldn’t imagine not being able to ever read again. I was as devastated about Dad’s fate as he was.
I get my macula checked every year. I never take anything about my vision for granted.
“Fortunately, Uncle Gerald’s sight has been saved with the help of treatment for wet (neovascular) age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD). This has been a major breakthrough in the management of the disease and my uncle’s doctor has been able to stabilise his vision.
“If only this treatment had been around to help Dad, how happier the last years of his life would have been.”
“One thing I have noticed is how few people know that a family history of the disease brings with it a high risk of macular degeneration. When I tell them that I have a 50 per cent chance of getting it too, most people are usually shocked. I get regular exercise, watch my weight and follow the eating program recommended by MDFA.
“I get my macula checked annually and when my ophthalmic surgeon tells me my macula is in pristine condition his words are music to my ears!”
Since becoming Patron, Ita has used her profile to raise awareness about macular disease. She is always a prominent voice during our Macula Month campaigns.
In 2014, MDFA published a cookbook ‘Eating for Eye Health’ written by Ita and chef Vanessa Jones.
The ‘Eating for Eye Health’ cookbook contains 90 recipes, carefully selected to ensure that good health is achieved without sacrificing great tasting food.
I’m passionate about making sure all Australians know that to a significant degree, they can eat away their risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
‘See My World’ Podcast
In 2019, MDFA launched its first podcast, with Ita as interviewer. ‘Jean’s Genes’ is a heartbreakingly raw conversation between Ita and MDFA Ambassador Jean Kittson. The pair discuss Jean’s journey as a carer to her parents who live with macular disease.
A calm voice in a time of crisis
In 2020 Ita once again demonstrated her unwavering commitment to the macular disease community. When the coronavirus pandemic prompted lockdowns in Australia, ophthalmologists reported a dramatic increase in the number of patients cancelling urgent, sight-saving treatment.
She urged Australians requiring treatment for wet (neovascular) age-related macular degeneration, diabetic macular oedema and other macular conditions to attend their regular eye appointments.
“I understand that some people might be concerned about leaving their homes to get treatments,” Ita said, “but I can assure everyone that clinics are sterile environments and stringent clinical guidelines have been put in place to ensure people’s safety.
“Whether you’re at home or living in aged care, these eye injections are vitally important to preserving sight.
“Let’s make sure we all see each other on the other side of COVID-19.”