Meet Michelle and help us save sight

17 May, 2018

Michelle has been a patient of the QEI Clinic for almost 30 years. She was just six weeks old when she had two major surgeries after being diagnosed with a cataract.

The week before, her parents Bob and Christine had taken Michelle out for dinner on the Gold Coast. Whilst holding Michelle, Bob was looking into a shop window and noticed her right eye had a strange reflection. He knew immediately something was wrong. Baby Michelle had completely lost sight in her right eye – preserving the sight in her left eye had become the priority.

“Many people think cataracts only happen to older people but our precious little baby faced two three hour operations and further examinations where she had to be put under general anaesthetic. We were told that cataracts cause more visible disability than any other form of treatable blindness,” says Bob. Michelle’s mum, Christine says dealing with uncertainty was the hardest, “I was always the only parent with a child in the waiting room.”

At the age of nine, Michelle won a school drawing competition and the whole family went to see the Disney movie, Anastasia at the cinema. “I remember how beautiful and vibrant the colours were on the big screen. I was really enjoying the movie until suddenly… I had these severe pains in my right eye. I saw flashing lights and had a migraine-like pain in my eye that I just couldn’t explain to my parents.”

Michelle was diagnosed with glaucoma in her right eye. In most cases, the disease affects both eyes so Michelle was extremely fortunate that the vision in her healthy eye was not affected. But it meant she experienced headaches or migraines, triggered by lack of sleep, bright lights, or stress. Over time they have become less frequent and manageable with special eye drops, a healthier diet, or lying in the dark with a blanket over her head. Michelle has been taking eye drops since she was eight to moderate the pressure of the eye.

Michelle is now a patient of Dr Ravi Thomas at the QEI Clinic for glaucoma treatment and check-ups. She has also been seeing QEI’s Dr Brendan Cronin for the past year. “I’m a regular visitor and seeing how QEI have developed from a small clinic at the Mater Hospital to being Queensland’s largest eye health research institute is great to see. But I know that there is still so much to be done.”

To help others, give back and raise awareness of the importance of eye health, Michelle started a personal blog to share her story, and many people wrote to her from around the world.

“When a young Mum from Spain reached out to me about her three-year-old daughter who has a cataract, it made me realise again how much parents go through and at times how alone they can feel. My parents have been amazing and so supportive, but I know they’ll have had days wondering whether I would keep my sight.”

Michelle now lives on the Gold Coast with her partner Steve and is National Marketing Manager for a large Australian accessories distributor. Michelle is very career driven and enjoys the extensive planning, innovation and customer engagement with her role. Coupled with her passion and creativity for graphic design, she believes she has found her dream job!

Michelle’s dad still keeps up-to-date with the latest glaucoma research. “Michelle has a functional nerve in her blind eye, so I am still hopeful researchers will come up with a treatment that could help her,” he says.

Your donation can help QEI’s researchers to continue their work and help people like Michelle restore their sight.

Here at QEI our researchers are working towards successful retinal regeneration outcomes. With the help of our community, we are hoping to find cures for diseases that cause severe loss vision, including glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.

“I am grateful for QEI and their work in preserving my sight. By giving today, you will help people like me to live a full life”- says Michelle.