"Don't give up - keep going."
As a child, Christy Murtagh was prescribed glasses. He never wore them for long though. Even then he realised that they weren't helping. At 19, while living in Hawaii, he found he was frequently driving in dark tunnels and the problem with his vision had become too bad to ignore. Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) was suspected by doctors there, but it took over two years before Christy got an official diagnosis in Boston. He was told then that he would be blind by age 50. At 46, he's confident that this will not be the case, and dreams of some day visiting New Zealand, where he has heard that the light is great.
RP is an hereditary eye disorder. It affects the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, in which the first stages of seeing take place. In RP, sight loss is gradual but progressive.
Christy used to work in the building trade but his condition made it impossible for him to continue. Now he is studying full-time to be a counsellor and looks on RP as a blessing. "It has made me a better person," he says. In his new career, he feels that his own difficult experiences will help him to understand others better. His message to others affected is "Don't give up – keep going. Tap into what you have." Small things like his talking laptop computer enable Christy to pursue a normal life. He has to move more slowly now, and for safety reasons he will rely increasingly on a cane for walking. As he gets older, he struggles with the idea of being labelled as a blind person, but takes comfort from the fact that support is out there should he need it. Charities like Fighting Blindness run support groups for those affected by RP, and also for their partners and spouses.
When he was asked to take part in the Rare Disease Day video, Christy did not hesitate. He wants the world to know that those with rare diseases are still normal human beings. He hopes that by telling his story he will help to make people more aware. Not just of RP but of the issues that face all those with rare diseases. "Society is disabling us," he says. "I could jog anywhere if there weren't so many obstacles out there."
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