JulEYE attracts star-power in fight to end blindness

A HUNDRETH of a millimetre.

That was the barest of margins between INXS guitarist Kirk Pengilly and possibly going blind from an untreated case of glaucoma in the 1980s.

"Back then (glaucoma) was still believed to be more of an old person's disease," Pengilly told Seniors News.

"I had gone into a couple of optometrist shops … and none of them picked up on it."

But luckily, Pengilly was saved from an eternal darkness thanks to "pioneering laser eye surgery".

Now, nearly 30 years later, the musician is spreading the gospel about medical eye research and shedding a light on the Eye Surgeon's Foundation's JulEYE campaign.

The campaign hopes to bring awareness to eye health and inspire people to donate money and help end preventable blindness.

It's a goal that that worth reaching for according to Pengilly.

 Kirk Pengilly nearly lost his sight when he was on tour with INXS.
Kirk Pengilly nearly lost his sight when he was on tour with INXS. Eye Surgeon’s Foundation

"What's become apparent in research is … (blindness) is one of the greatest medical fears in most people," Pengilly said.

"Because it can happen gradually, you don't really notice … the interruption to your normal lifestyle, not being able to see your kids grow up.

"It was strange, it was a gradual thing," Pengilly said of his condition.

"I started noticing halos around street lamps after (INXS) did the show (on a tour in the mid-1980s).

"I just thought maybe it was the sweat, too much beer or something and it progressively got a bit worse and then it all culminated, thankfully in a way, after our last show in Darwin.

"I woke up the morning after in just excruciating pain, it felt like someone had put knives into my eyes and was twisting them.

"I had no idea if it was a headache or something to do with my eyes.

"We flew back to Sydney and went straight to see someone about it … and thankfully she diagnosed it pretty quickly.

"But there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to find permanent cures."

Apart from raising funds for research, the JulEYE campaign is hoping to raise awareness on everyday eye care, for instance, booking in an appointment with an eye health professional.

Andrew Russek was once a professional violinist who nearly lost his sight to glaucoma.
Andrew Russek was once a professional violinist who nearly lost his sight to glaucoma. Eye Surgeon’s Foundation

Because something as simple as a regular check-up can save your sight.

Just ask Andrew Russek.

"Initially, about ten years ago, I went for a regular eye check and had my eye pressures checked and they were just abnormally high, sort of went through the roof," Russek said.

"(The optometrist) got a second opinion and then sent me off to the Sydney Eye Hospital.

"(Professor John Grigg) treated me initially with drops but then decided they were going to put what they call permanent hole in my eyes.

"Now that was probably the main thing that saved, as much as of my sight that was left to save, because glaucoma is like a cancer, it's the thief of sight."

Russek, a former professional violinist who played in global productions such as Phantom of the Opera, would have come close to losing many of the freedoms he once enjoyed had it not been for the surgery.

And despite suffering from cataracts later in life, which require constant injections, he can still drive on an unrestricted licence, can still travel to teach music to children and, in his own word: "given me a new lease of life."

To find out more about JulEYE, sign up for the EYEcon Night Walk or fundraise for much-needed medical research to help end preventable blindness, visit Juleye.com.au

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