Des Wallington, the self-confessed practical joker, believes laughter is the best medicine. He refuses to dwell on the past and is adamant that you don’t get a second chance in life.
The 62-year-old former professional power boat racer had lost significant vision in his right eye by the time he was 30 as a result of a genetic disorder. In a cruel twist of fate, he lost all vision in that eye a decade later after suffering a traumatic injury when the brake lever of a bicycle punctured his eye. By 2016, he had also lost vision in his left eye and is now totally blind.
Des was born with Axenfeld-Rieger syndrome: a term used to describe a group of genetic disorders that affect the eye’s development. Around half of those with Axenfeld-Rieger syndrome develop glaucoma, which can lead to vision loss or blindness. Des was one of the unlucky ones – he was not yet 10 when he developed glaucoma.
Today, with his artist wife of 34 years, Liana, and his trusty assistance dog, Tyson, by his side, Des continues to live life to the full. While you won’t hear any self-pity from Des, what you will hear is a great deal of passion about the research being conducted at the Lions Eye Institute. That’s because it is research, he says, that holds hope for the future of his daughter and grandchildren.
Des is a long-term patient of our Institute, and now, so too is his daughter Natalie. Natalie, a bubbly 33-year old mother of three, recently developed vision challenges also related to Axenfeld-Rieger. It started last year when she began suffering headaches, dizziness and blurred vision. In November, Dr Antonio Giubilato from the Lions Eye Institute inserted a glaucoma drainage device and Natalie’s vision has been steadily improving ever since.
Des knows that everything conceivable was done to save his own sight and prolong his vision for as long as possible, and now hopes that advances in glaucoma research and treatment will ensure his daughter, grandchildren and future generations have access to vision-saving treatment.
“It was all too late for me, but Natalie… I don’t want to see her suffer,” Des says. “And the grandkids too. We don’t know what’s ahead for them.”
Glaucoma has been referred to as the “sneak thief of sight” as it can occur without the patient experiencing pain or other symptoms. It is estimated that 300,000 Australians have glaucoma, which is irreversible and the second most common cause of blindness. Lions Eye Institute is at the forefront of glaucoma research and our scientists spent 20 years developing a ground-breaking surgical intervention for glaucoma that is now commercially available for implantation in Australian patients. While the Institute’s Xen™ Gel Stent wasn’t suitable for the Wallingtons, it has now been successfully implanted in more than 75,000 patients worldwide.