Ruskington Reverend who had sight-saving eye test urges others to take up free offer of testing in Boston

Barrie Hirst 84 of Ruskington, diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration following a routine check up with optometrist at the Vision Express, Sleaford store. EMN-170623-125325001
Barrie Hirst 84 of Ruskington, diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration following a routine check up with optometrist at the Vision Express, Sleaford store. EMN-170623-125325001

A grandfather-of-three and retired Methodist Minister from Ruskington has credited his local optician for saving his sight after a crucial referral showed he had age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Now he is encouraging local residents to take advantage of the free eye tests being offered by Vision Express, as its Vision Van visits Boston on Monday (June 26) for Macular Week (June 26 – July 2).

Barrie Hirst 84 of Ruskington pictured with optometrist, Kathryn Saunders. EMN-170623-125337001

Barrie Hirst 84 of Ruskington pictured with optometrist, Kathryn Saunders. EMN-170623-125337001

After a routine eye test at Vision Express in Sleaford nearly 10 years ago, Rev Barrie Hirst, now retired, has been living with the devastating effects of AMD - the most common form of sight loss in the UK, for almost a decade.

Rev Hirst, 84, recalls when he first noticed there was a problem with his sight: “I had been driving in North Yorkshire and got to the crest of a hill, looked to the west and found the light to be extremely painful, so much so that my wife had to take over driving.”

During his eye test at Vision Express in 2007, Barrie mentioned his experience to his optometrist Kathryn Saunders, who immediately referred Barrie to Lincoln Hospital.

Further testing revealed evidence of macular degeneration – a condition which develops when the part of the eye responsible for central vision (the macula) is unable to function as effectively as it used to.

Rev Barrie Hirst pictured with optometrist Kathryn Saunders and store manager Rebecca Dawson. EMN-170623-125348001

Rev Barrie Hirst pictured with optometrist Kathryn Saunders and store manager Rebecca Dawson. EMN-170623-125348001

Diagnosed with dry age-related macular degeneration (dry AMD) – the most common type of macular degeneration - Barrie was under hospital care for the next five years, having annual check-ups until the consultant was satisfied that his condition had stabilised and was discharged.

But in April this year, Kathryn noticed possible further AMD damage. Coupled with a decrease in his range of vision she felt that he may not be safe to drive and referred him to a local triage optician for a second opinion. They confirmed that his vision had deteriorated to such an extent that it was advisable to stop driving altogether.

Barrie, who was a minister for 60 years said: “Returning my license to the DVLA came as a huge shock to me and it took me a few weeks to come to terms with the fact that I no longer had that means of independence. I had, however, been having difficulty reading small print so I could understand why it was necessary.

“That being said I am fortunate to have a supportive network of friends and family, particularly my wife Phylis, who have been fantastic at helping out with lifts to various appointments. I enjoy riding my bike locally, and I have increased my intake of dark green leafy vegetables, as these are known to be good for the eye, so in some respects my AMD is ensuring my general health is good, which is always a bonus!”

He added: “I’m also a volunteer speaker at the Macular Society and I’m available to speak for any organisation on AMD. It’s been great to offer advice to people on how they too can adapt their way of living, once they have been diagnosed with the condition.”

Kathryn added: “Barrie has been under my care for a long time and he understands the importance of regular eye tests in order to monitor his AMD. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for dry AMD but if Barrie maintains regular appointments we can ensure that his general eye health is looked after, and any additional conditions are diagnosed quickly and treated accordingly.”

As part of Macular Week, Vision Express will be bringing its Vision Van to Boston’s Market Place on Monday, June 26. The high-tech mobile testing unit will be open from 9am-5pm and local passers-by will be invited for a free eye test and given advice on how to spot the signs and symptoms of macular conditions.

Boston has been selected as the first stop on the UK wide Vision Van tour after the town was identified as having a high population of people at risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD). As its name suggests, AMD overwhelmingly affects older people and almost 40 per cent of Boston residents are aged over 65.

The condition currently affects more than 600,000 people in the UK and another 200 new cases are detected every day. In Lincolnshire alone, 80 per 100,000 people are suffering from preventable sight loss relating to it.

Those unable to visit the Vision Van can still benefit from a free eye test by downloading an online voucher by July 5 from the Vision Express website: https://www.visionexpress.com/macular-week-2017/free-eye-test/ The voucher can be redeemed until July 31 at any of approximately 400 Vision Express stores across the UK.