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Sunday, February 17 , 2019, 6:34 am | Fair 49º


Local Girls Losing Their Vision Inspire Community in Fight for Sight

Second annual Santa Barbara VisionWalk aims to raise $50,000 for blindness research

To fund cutting-edge research for the more than 10 million Americans affected with blinding retinal degenerative diseases, the Foundation Fighting Blindness will host its second annual Santa Barbara VisionWalk this Saturday, April 28, at Chase Palm Park.

The 5K walkathon aims to raise $50,000 for research that will lead to prevention, treatments and cures for retinal degenerative diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and Stargardt disease. These sight-stealing diseases affect people of all races and ethnicities, young and old.

“It’s incredibly difficult to watch someone you love suffer from a disease robbing them of their vision,” said VisionWalk chair Rhonda Wash of Santa Barbara. “I’m hopeful because the Foundation Fighting Blindness is funding many avenues of promising research, like breakthrough gene therapy clinical trials that have restored vision in children and young adults previously blind from a rare retinal disease. VisionWalk is an opportunity to take action in support of advancing research and moving one step closer to a cure.”

At age 8, Wash’s daughter Lily, now a seventh-grader at Santa Barbara Junior High School, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disease that is slowly stealing her sight and could lead to total blindness. There’s currently no cure for RP, but advancements in stem cell and gene therapy research offer hope for a brighter future of treatment options.

Last year, Lily’s VisionWalk team, “Looking Out for Lily,” raised more than $3,000 in 2011 over a mere three weeks, and they’re hoping to double that amount this year to help move the research forward.

Like Lily, 10-year-old Santa Barbara Montessori School fourth-grader Meghan Downing doesn’t let her eye condition hold her back. Despite her vision declining quickly to Stargardt disease, Meghan plays Irish fiddle tunes, “kicks butt” as a green belt in karate, and travels to summer camp each year for adventures in kayaking and trampoline.

She’s a true inspiration to her family, and her “Meghan’s Posse” VisionWalk team is rallying to engage the community in the fight against blindness.

Hundreds of walkers, many of whom are visually impaired, are expected at the free, family-friendly VisionWalk, which also includes children’s activities, a bounce house, refreshments, entertainment and more. Dogs and strollers are welcome on the 3.1-mile walk course. Since the VisionWalk program started in 2006, tens of thousands have participated in events across the country to raise more than $20 million for blindness research.

The Santa Barbara VisionWalk will begin with registration at 9 a.m. Saturday, followed by the walk beginning at 10 a.m.

People are invited to form teams or walk independently at the free, family-friendly event. Click here to participate in or support the VisionWalk.

— Alayna Tatum is the event director for Santa Barbara VisionWalk.

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