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'Facial expressions are difficult to make out' My Health.


As many as two million people in the UK may have some degree of visual impairment. Health Reporter HELEN RAE speaks to one woman who is living with a rare eye defect TO look at Claire Parker you would not think there was anything medically wrong with her.

Yet the 32-year-old is partially blind as she has no iris in either eye due to a rare congenital disorder.

Claire was born with a condition called aniridia, which causes incomplete formation of the iris - the coloured part of the eye - and loss of vision.

It is estimated only one in 50,000 to 100,000 babies are born with the illness and Claire's mum Mary, 69, also has the defect.

Claire, who lives in Gateshead, said: "Not many have heard about the condition and it can affect people differently.

"For me, I do have some sight but I need to read large print and I can't see bus numbers. Bright sunlight also affects my eyes.

"I find facial expressions difficult to make out and it's hard to make eye contact with people.

"This can make it difficult when communicating as you're relying a lot more on the sound of a person's voice as opposed to their facial expressions."

People with aniridia can have a variety of eye problems.

Glaucoma can appear in late childhood or early adolescence and eye cataracts occur in 50-85% of those with the condition.

Claire, who is married to Tony, a web developer, is unable to drive due to sight problems and uses a symbol cane to get about.

However, she has been determined not to let her lack of vision hold her back and she lives life to the full.

Claire graduated from Sunderland University with a 2:1 BA (Hons) degree in health and social care in 2010 and last year was an Olympic torchbearer in the region.

"There is always barriers that I face on a day-to-day basis," explained Claire.

"I'm constantly having to be aware of my surroundings and I must always think the day out in advance as to what I need.

"It can be hard living with the condition and a lot of people do struggle as they can become isolated. But I do my best to achieve what I want to and I never give up."

As a child Claire went to a mainstream school but struggled to fit in and lacked confidence as she felt she "stood out" from her peers.

All that changed when she started college as it was then that she began to flourish. She is currently a campaigns assistant for Royal National Institute of Blind People.

Claire added: "I'm still quite amazed at how much I've achieved. I feel a different person to what I was and I have so much more confidence."

Around two-thirds of aniridian patients inherit the problem from an affected parent. Claire's two brothers and three sisters do not have the condition.

Those affected by aniridia also have a 50/50 chance of developing Wilms' tumour, a form of kidney cancer in children. They can also be prone to genito-urinary problems and learning difficulties. If Claire has children, there is a 50% chance that she will pass the condition on to her offspring.

"I would like to have children," said Claire. "I've been to see genetic specialists and there is a test that I can do while pregnant to see if my child has inherited the condition.

"I can't help but wonder why it's me who has the condition. But it's something that I can't answer and I just have to get on with my life."

<<THE North East's first aniridia meeting was held at the weekend to help those with the condition. People with the illness and their families met for a meal on Sunday and then went bowling together.

It is hoped that events like this will enable those with the condition to catch up with others with the illness to gain help and support. For more information about future North East aniridia meetings, email


EYE DEFECT Claire Parker, who is partially blind
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 27, 2013
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