A YOUNG woman who has raised almost €16,000 for charity hopes the proceeds will help treat relatives who are running a high risk of going blind.
Debbie O’Connor, from Meelick, said male members of her family had a 50% chance of developing retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative and irreversible condition that is hereditary.
One might think that owing her own business at 22 - she runs The Hair Boutique in Meelick - that Debbie has little time for much else. But over the past year she has been organising fundraisers around Limerick and Clare in aid of Fighting Blindness, which funds research into treatments and cures for sight loss.
She was recently able to present a cheque for over €15,800 to Fighting Blindness’ Michael Ryan, for which she thanked the generosity of everybody who had supported the various events.
Debbie explained that of her mother’s six brothers, three had gone blind.
“I have younger cousins as well who are actually going blind at the moment and they are waiting on trials in Dublin to help their eyesight. But for my three uncles who are already blind, there is no hope for them. Their sight will never come back,” said Debbie.
She explained that while RP is carried by the female members of her family, it is only the males who, while born sighted, are at risk of going blind as they get older.
“What we were told was from day one was that the girls will carry it. So while my mother had girls and boys, we weren’t affected. But if myself or my sister have a baby boy, there is a 50-50 chance he will have it. But with my brother, where the gene has stopped, goes on to have boys, they won’t have it. My mother carried it and my sister and I could also be carriers,” she said.
RP is currently considered incurable but Debbie said there were encouraging trials in the UK. One of her cousins is next on the waiting list for a human trial with the help of Dr Paul Kenna at Trinity College Dublin.
“The boys who are going blind hope to go through with these human trials and there might be some hope of stopping it for them. That’s why we are gone crazy into raising funds for the younger generation - because time is very important for them now,” said Debbie.
Over the last year, Debbie and her supporters have raised funds through taking part in the Great Limerick Run, bag-packing at Dunnes Stores with the help of St Caimin’s in Shannon and through a charity ball held at the Clarion Hotel on New Year’s Eve.
“The ball took in good money for us and it was a great night out so I would like to make that an annual event. We are planning to do the Great Limerick Run again next month and hopefully some more bag-packing as well,” said Debbie.
At the presentation of the cheque, Debbie thanked Dunnes Stores for their hospitality and all of the local businesses and individuals who donated spot prizes for the various events. Students at St Caimin’s had also organised a sponsored walk in addition to helping out with the bag-packing.
And she also had in mind a particular individual who made “a significant donation” but wished to remain anonymous.
“People were so generous and were more than happy to donate to such a worthy cause. My friends and neighbours were more than happy to help when I told them about it,” said Debbie.
Fighting Blindness is a patient-led Irish charity funding research into treatments and cures for sight loss.
In addition, they provide counselling to people affected buy sight loss and their families.
Michael Ryan, community fundraising officer with Fighting Blindness, commented on the outstanding work that Debbie does for the charity; “Debbie is truly an inspirational young woman and it has been a pleasure to work with her over the past 12 months.
“We in Fighting Blindness cannot overstate the impact Debbie and her family have had on us, both from a fundraising and awareness point of view,” said Mr Ryan.