A small warning sign Australian mum with diabetes ignored before trip to Specsavers leads to devastating diagnosis
Bouncing her 12-month-old boy Jaxon in her arms, Jess finally went to Specsavers after more than two years of postponing her routine eye exam.
The then 30-year-old thought her slightly blurry vision was due to too much screen time or even lack of sleep from caring for her baby.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Jess’ story of visual impairment
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In truth, his visual impairment was due to retinal detachment – an emergency where a section of tissue broke away from the blood vessels in the back of the eye.
Jess was losing her sight – fast.
“I just went to get a new pair of glasses,” says Jess 7Life.
“And they were telling me I was going to go blind.
“My mind was racing, I was afraid that I would never see my baby again.”
Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of nine, Jess knew regular eye exams were important as the disease can often cause slow damage to the retina if left untreated.
But other than using glasses to drive, she has never had a vision problem.
“I wear glasses, mainly to see things from a distance,” she says.
As Jess grew up, married the man of her dreams, Adam, and became pregnant with their first child, she put regular eye exams on the back burner.
Living on the outskirts of the Snowy Mountain region of New South Wales, her nearest doctor was an hour and a half away.
She went back and forth for prenatal appointments but, even with regular reminders from the optometrist, Jess never made an appointment for an eye exam.
“I should have left earlier. They would have caught my eyesight deteriorating,” she says looking back.
When Jaxon was born, her visit to the optometrist was, once again, the last thing on her to-do list.
Then she started having vision problems.
But the mother simply explained that she needed an updated glasses prescription.
Eventually, fed up with her blurry vision, when Jaxon was just over 12 months old, she finally made an appointment.
“I walked in and just told them I probably needed to update my prescription,” she says.
Almost instantly, the doctor knew something was wrong.
“He just told me I need to go to the ER now,” Jess said.
“My jaw dropped – I just wanted new glasses.”
The doctor explained that Jess had extreme eye damage – and if she didn’t act quickly, she could lose her sight completely.
In hospital, doctors said the damage was so severe that she needed immediate surgery to try to prevent further deterioration.
And after that, she would need multiple rounds of laser treatment on each eye.
The surgeons couldn’t promise they could stop the damage from spreading, just that “they would do their best,” says Jess.
The operation on his right eye was a success, with doctors able to flatten the piece of tissue that had disconnected from the back of his eye.
After her right eye healed, Jess was able to undergo the same operation for her left – and that too was successful.
Although the surgeons were unable to repair any of the damage, they were confident that with regular checkups and laser treatment, Jess would not completely lose her sight.
She underwent five rounds of laser eye treatment on each eye – and she has never missed an appointment since.
“My eyesight isn’t perfect, but the surgeons did their best,” says Jess.
“My right eye wanders a bit and I still have blurry vision at a distance.”
When it comes to her favorite hobby, reading, Jess is devastated that she can no longer concentrate on the pages of a book and has had to opt for audiobooks instead.
She has also given up driving and will not be able to return to her job as a cashier at Woolworths.
“It’s really hard to see the screens,” she says.
“My friends laugh when I text them because I think I’m hitting one letter and hitting the next one.
“So I sometimes send some pretty funny things.”
Although she still suffers from blurriness, she is grateful that she can still see her son.
Jess now signs up with an organization called KeepSight, which sends text message reminders when checkups are due.
She wishes she could go back in time and listen to her doctor’s advice.
“Don’t put other things before your health, that’s the most important thing,” she says.