Crystal clear about dealing with vision problems

DAVE BROWN/Staff

Putnam County Middle School soccer player Aaron Aune, who battles Stargardft Disease, is legally blind.

By Dave Brown

Staff Writer

Aaron Aune is one of the top players on the Putnam County Middle School soccer team and was instrumental in helping his side notch a 2-1 win last week over Malcom Bridge.

Aune not only tackles players on the other team, he also advances the ball and finds open players with deft touch. Several times during the game he runs down the ball in open space and maintains possession.

Even upon very close examination from the sidelines, it is almost impossible to discern the 14-year-old is legally blind.

“I started losing my sight when I was around 11 years old, and then it got to be very progressive,” said Aunes.

“All it did was make me stronger.”

Aunes is in Macon today to see a vision specialist about his Stargardt Disease.

According to Foundation Fighting Blindness, Stargardt disease is the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration. The progressive vision loss associated with Stargardt disease is caused by the death of photoreceptor cells in the central portion of the retina called the macula.

The retina is the delicate light-sensing tissue lining the back inside wall of the eye. Photoreceptor cells in the retina provide vision by conveying information from the visual field to the brain. The macula is responsible for sharp central vision — for tasks like reading, watching television, and looking at faces.

Decreased central vision is a hallmark of Stargardt disease. Side vision is usually preserved. Stargardt disease typically develops during childhood and adolescence.

So the question that may be intrusive and personal, but was politely asked is how does a legally blind middle school kid play soccer with such aplomb against full-sighted opponents?

Aune balled up two fists and put them directly in front of his face to describe the Stargardt malady.

“I didn’t lose my vision. I gained everything,” said Aune.

“I can’t see in front of me, but I can see around the sides, and the top and bottom.

“Dealing with Stargardt is nothing new to me. It has helped me know what I want to do. It’s made me better and pushed me.”

PCMS dean and athletic director Emmett Clower said Aune is a good student and a good athlete, and also confirmed the soccer player is legally blind.

Clower has a good idea of what Aune is going through as he battles his vision problems. A little over 10 years ago, Clower battled blindness.

“I have a special place in my heart for Aaron. I know what he’s going through,” said Clower.

“It’s got to be a tough problem, especially at his age.”

Clower suffered from Retinopathy. He was blind for three months and underwent three surgical procedures to regain his eyesight.

According to WebMD, Retinopathy begins as a mild disease. During the early stage of the disease, the small blood vessels in the retina become weaker and develop small bulges called microaneurysms.

These microaneurysms are the earliest signs of retinopathy and may appear a few years after the onset of diabetes. They may also burst and cause tiny blood spots (hemorrhages) on the retina.

As retinopathy progresses, fluid and protein leak from the damaged blood vessels and cause the retina to swell. This may cause mild to severe vision loss, depending on which parts of the retina are affected. Treatment usually works to stop and sometimes reverse loss of vision.

“When you lose your eyesight, it makes you realize you take a lot for granted,”said Clower.

‘Those three months I was blind… my hearing didn’t get better, but I seemed to pay much better attention.

“It can be tough when you’re in a room full of people and somebody gets up and leaves. Sometimes you never really know who is out there.”

One thing that became obvious during the PCMS vs. Malcolm Bridge game: Aune had a very good idea of who was where on the field.

“Aaron has known about his vision problems since the fifth grade,” said Amanda Mullinax, who along with her husband Bo Mullinax, was at the game to see her son play.

“He’s really adapted well over the years. What he does on the soccer field is phenominal.

“He doesn’t let his vision problems dictate what he wants to do in life.”

Aune said his goals are crystal clear.

“We have a talented team,” said Aune.

“I want to play soccer with my teammates and be part of the brotherhood we have.”

 

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