Normally at this time of year, many of us are busy making plans to see our family and friends to celebrate the festive season. This Christmas will look a little different thanks to COVID-19, but I hope you can still have a joyous holiday period with your loved ones, whether you’re catching up in person or online.
In response to COVID-19, we have made thousands of phone calls to members of our community to check in, and for those receiving treatment, to make sure they are keeping up their sight-saving eye injection appointments.
This is how we met Jan, who was diagnosed with wet AMD in her right eye in 2016. Jan has never revealed her diagnosis to anyone outside her family before, but after a chat with MDFA, she has decided to share it in the hope she can encourage others living with macular disease. I’m so very grateful she has agreed to tell her story for the first time.
An award-winning artist from Victoria’s beautiful Great Ocean Road, Jan is a powerful example of how early action and maintaining treatment can save your sight. Regular eye injections allow Jan to keep painting her large oil-on-canvas masterpieces four years after her diagnosis of AMD.
Jan has held more than 50 solo exhibitions across four continents over a five-decade career in visual arts. She creates oil-on-canvas works inspired by her travels, particularly to Italy, featuring fine lines that depend on detailed vision. An example of her art is in the image above.
Jan lives and works at Moongate Studios on the Great Ocean Road with George, her husband of more than 50 years and a sculptor himself. Their mud-brick house and purpose-built studios are surrounded by 26 acres of unspoiled bush paradise “just a birdsong from Bells Beach,” says Jan. But this idyllic lifestyle was disrupted when Jan started noticing changes to her vision.
“Being an artist, I just noticed over time that I had lost a bit of perspective. I always use long-haired brushes and I noticed the brush hit the canvas before I expected. I do some fine work and it was becoming increasingly difficult to put the paint where I wanted – even with glasses.”
Jan also observed straight lines appearing wavy and fuzzy black spots in the centre of her vision. Despite experiencing no pain, this convinced her to visit the optometrist for an eye examination. That day, she was diagnosed with wet AMD. Although Jan had been packing her bags to fly to China for an art exhibition, she was immediately booked in for her first eye injection that week at a Geelong clinic.
Being diagnosed with macular disease can be confusing and overwhelming. With wet AMD in particular, it’s common to be scared about the prospect of eye injections and this fear can prevent people from receiving sight-saving treatment. However, Jan called our National Helpline and spoke to one of our Support Officers, who alleviated her concerns and encouraged her to receive the treatment that has maintained her vision.
“The possibility of losing your sight is devastating for any member of the community, but for an artist, it is unimaginable that you could not paint. It was devastating. I was frightened really. But I immediately rang the Macular Disease Foundation Australia and spoke to them. The Support Officer had obviously received so many of these phone calls and her understanding and knowledge settled me, so thank you for doing what you’re doing.
“I was afraid of the injections because I wondered if they would be painful. You think it is your worst nightmare to get an injection into your eyeball. But the Support Officer was able to talk me through the process and gave me some reassurance – enough to actually go on Friday and receive the treatment.”
Now, every three to four months, George drives Jan to Geelong for injections that preserve the vision in her right eye. Jan counts herself lucky that she was diagnosed in 2016 because this anti-VEGF treatment was only introduced to Australia in 2007.
Eye injections have saved Jan’s sight. Although George now does most of the driving, Jan can still paint, read and is even in the process of writing a book with her husband.
“I feel blessed. I feel absolutely blessed to live in Australia where we have this treatment. The ophthalmologist often says that it is fortunate to be diagnosed in this decade because the treatment was not available a long time ago. It is just a recent phenomenon, really.
“When I think of how I felt those four years ago, I had no idea that in the future, with my three pillars of support – my personal carer, my medical team and Macular Disease Foundation Australia – that I could be in such a joyous place.”
While anti-VEGF injections have preserved the vision of many people like Jan with wet AMD, there is still no treatment for early and intermediate AMD and late-stage dry AMD. Will you please consider sending a kind gift this Christmas to fund more ground-breaking research to help save the sight of people living with macular disease.