For many years, Darlene Lodge knew she had macular degeneration. But she had no symptoms, and it didn’t get in the way of her work or personal life. Then in 2000, her diagnosis changed from dry to wet macular degeneration, and the problems slowly began. Today, she is considered legally blind.
Darlene first heard about CVI in the 1980’s when she worked at the IRS. “Some of my colleagues were partially sighted or blind, and they told me about the Center,” she said. Although she didn’t need services back then, Darlene knew that CVI would be there when she would eventually need help. And last year, she turned to the Florence Maxwell Low Vision Clinic for assistance.
“I was reminded about CVI when I took a class at Wesley Woods, which is where my husband Don and I now live,” said Darlene. The eight session class was taught by CVI low vision therapist Gina Adams, and was funded in part by the State of Georgia’s Drive for Sight program. According to Gina, Darlene was a wonderful student. “Not only was she a hard worker, but she shared ideas and encouraged others to participate as well,” said Adams. “Plus, she was able to take general information she learned in class and immediate apply it to her own specific needs, which is exactly what we like to see people do.”
After completing the class, and subsequently being referred to CVI by her ophthalmologist Dr. Steven Leff of Omni Eye Services, Darlene decided to visit the Florence Maxwell Low Vision Clinic to see if there were additional devices that could help her. “I knew I couldn’t permanently change anything,” she said, “so I went in with realistic expectations.” Her appointment began with a vision evaluation by Dr. Timothy Spence, one of CVI’s two low vision optometrists. He assessed what she could see, and then determined what tools, techniques or devices would maximize her functional vision.
Within minutes after her exam was completed, Darlene’s visual diagnosis was forwarded to Low Vision Therapist Gina Adams, and the two had an opportunity to work together again. “We compared her current low vision aids with different ones, and decided which items would work best to help her accomplish her specific goals,” said Adams, who has been with CVI for over 22 years. In Darlene’s case, magnifiers were a great help. “I have three magnifiers, each of a different strength – 5x, 7x and 10x,” Lodge said. “I use different ones for different tasks.” With these new devices, Darlene is once again able to do things that she loves, including art and music. “I’m painting with watercolors, creating greeting cards, and reading music again,” she said happily.
Sometimes, the smallest things can make a big difference. For Darlene, when the light hits her eyes, the glare wipes out the detail of what she’s looking at. Dark glasses have made all the difference in the world. “When I leave my apartment now, I always put on my dark glasses so I can see things more clearly. They’re also a sign to give the public fair warning,” she says with a laugh. “That way, they might steer a little clear of me!”
According to Clinic Director Cheryl Blewitt, simple tasks such as pouring a cup of coffee or signing your own name can be quite an accomplishment that many of us take for granted. “Improvement in visual function often leads to improvement in one’s outlook and quality of life with vision loss,” she said. “When a person regains even a little more independence, it is so rewarding to witness.” If a client needs more in-depth training or help with techniques, CVI provides adult rehabilitation training that takes place both at the Center and in the community.
The final stop in Darlene Lodge’s three-hour initial visit to the Clinic was with Nancy Jennings, CVI’s licensed clinical social worker who specializes in assisting people with vision impairment. Jennings, who has worked at the Clinic for more than 20 years, provides additional resources to help people adjust to their vision loss. “There are only a few social workers in the state who specialize in low vision, and Nancy is one of them,” said Clinic Director Cheryl Blewitt. “From assistance with alternative transportation options to information on support groups, Nancy introduces our clients to a broad array of community resources.”
Darlene Lodge says she has nothing to complain about, and is grateful for the good things in her life. “I have a great husband, wonderful children and a nice home,” she said recently. “Considering everything, my vision is a minor inconvenience. And as it changes, I know that CVI’s Low Vision Clinic will always be a resource for me when I need it. That gives me comfort.”