Like many things in life that are just expected, eyesight is one of those things we take for granted. But can you imagine how much more you would value the things you saw if you started to lose your sight? For over 450,00 Australians, including Peter Vance, this is a reality.
Peter (74), a well-regarded singer and songwriter, has a long relationship with Queensland Eye Institute Foundation (QEIF), dating back to before the Institute was established when in 1996 Professor Lawrence Hirst removed Peter’s cataract at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. Since then, Peter has been a regular supporter of QEIF and this year he is also involved in Last Seen, QEIF’s fundraising and awareness initiative to save sight.
Peter’s love of the outdoors led him to study agricultural science at Melbourne University. In 1968 Peter moved to Papua New Guinea with his wife and their young daughter. As a research agronomist Peter developed recommendations for improving dryland crop production in the Markham-Ramu valleys. In 1978 the young family of five returned to Australia to settle in Queensland with many fond memories of their time in PNG.
In 1983, Peter was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a condition he inherited from his Mother. RP is a genetic condition that causes cells in the retina – the light sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye – to degenerate. Growing up Peter experienced night blindness, gradual loss of peripheral vision and now has only a small tunnel of central vision left.
Peter was declared legally blind in 1994. At first, he struggled to accept his status as a Visually Impaired Person and initially refused to wear his VIP badge, which would highlight his condition to others. For several months Peter was in a state of denial, in fear of what others would say or think!
Over time it became easier for Peter to accept his status as visually impaired, and has now worn his VIP badge with pride for over 20 years. Peter also uses a long white cane.
“My cane and my VIP badge travel with me everywhere. I read the world with my cane and my cane helps the world read me. I’m getting a lot more offers of help these days which is a very good sign that people are becoming much more aware of the everyday issues facing people with a disability”.
However, RP was not the only thing Peter inherited from his mother. Peter shares his late mother’s love for music, regularly performing at jazz venues, festivals and community events. For Last Seen, Peter worked alongside artist Col McElwaine to depict a dearly held visual memory from his time performing his song ‘Torch of Life’ at the 2000 Summer Olympics torch relay celebrations at Mount Coot-tha.
“My family is musical, my mum was a violin player and teacher and she also taught piano. My younger brother is a professional jazz musician and I was always surrounded by music. Someone gave me a guitar when I was 13 so I taught myself. My love for music has always been there, wherever I have gone.”
These days, Peter is settled in Brisbane, with his three children and some of his nine grandchildren living close by. For Peter, family is very important and he feels eternally grateful to have had the
support of family, friends, low vision and blind associations and medical specialists over the years.
“The key for me is that I’ve always had my wonderful family walking closely with me through all of this. I’ve also been very passionate about my work; firstly in agriculture and now in the arts and helping to improve access for all. I am very fortunate.”
As a result of his successful career in agricultural science, Peter recognises the importance of research and the time and resources it can take to make vital discoveries that make a difference.
“It takes time, but given resources and support, often unexpected breakthroughs can happen.”
Currently there is no treatment or cure for RP, but Peter continues to make contributions to QEIF to further eye health research in the hope that one day a cure will be discovered and other people with RP, such as one of his children who inherited the condition, can be helped.
Here at QEIF, we are dedicated to saving sight through research, clinical care and education. Your donation could help to save or restore someone’s sight and pave the way to eliminate avoidable blindness.