Jim Vacheenas, a visually-impaired Tucker resident, told Patch recently about his work with others who are similarly affected.
"Providing support to those that are attempting to cope with their vision loss is a big part of what we do. I lead a monthly support group (at St. Joseph's Hospital) of about 20 members where we discuss tips, devices, techniques etc. on finding ways to do things differently than the way they use to before they were had to adapt," Vacheenas said.
A longtime member of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, Vacheenas was given the foundation’s Southern Region Volunteer of the Year Award in 2012, recognizing his outstanding service and support of the non-profit’s mission to restore sight lost to retinal diseases.
The Foundation Fighting Blindness is a national non-profit organization committed to vision-saving research for retinal diseases like Retinitis Pigmentosa, Macular Degeneration, and Usher Syndrome.
"It means a lot to me to be recognized by my FFB colleagues for all the time and effort I have put into this," Vacheenas told Patch. "What many do not realize is that I get much satisfaction and knowledge for my own personal benefit by doing this for others."
Vacheenas dedicates his time and effort to raise awareness of these visual impairments and diseases, and regularly supports research and the local visually impaired community through fundraising. His steadfast commitment to support the foundation and surrounding community is no surprise, either; both he and several family members are affected by Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition that progressively degrades vision over time.
"Many individuals are devastated when they get a diagnosis from an ophthalmologist that they are going to lose all or some of their vision," he said. "The doctors are not equipped to help their patients when there is no cure for their disease. That is where my group and the FFB can provide real hope by showing them real solutions and examples of individuals that are succeeding in business and their lives with little or no vision. We have helped turned many lives around after getting them plugged into available resources and keeping them optimistic about facing their challenges."
Vacheenas’ ongoing efforts include working with local retinal specialists to provide patients with helpful resources and leading a support group for people with severely impaired vision. He is also the Foundation’s Atlanta chapter leader and has acted as an Atlanta 5K VisionWalk team captain. In last year’s walk Vacheenas managed to surpass his individual goal of raising $4,000 to fund sight-saving research.
Vacheenas is a part of a non-profit foundation that has raised over $450 million since 1971 to fund research focused on preventing, treating, and curing a spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases. As the leading non-governmental funder of retinal research, the Foundation Fighting Blindness has led breakthrough studies using gene therapy to restore significant vision in blind children and young adults.
With the help of individuals like Vacheenas, the Foundation maintains a network of almost 50 chapters and provides support and resources to affected individuals and their loved ones in communities across the United States. Vacheenas added, "The biggest fear I have found with individuals losing their vision is of the unknown. The FFB is the answer for that."
Vacheenas’ efforts are certainly visible to the outside world as well: promising advancements in gene therapy and cell-based studies give 10 million Americans affected by retinal diseases—Vacheenas and his family included—hope that a cure is in sight.