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By Crystal Proxmire
ROYAL OAK – Brian Lane has been taking steps to increase awareness about vision impairments ever since injury caused his mother to lose much of her sight. Not only is he taking steps, he is running at the problem head on, with a nonprofit organization in his mother’s honor where his goal is to run 52 marathons nationwide to raise money and awareness. So far he has run 15.
To further help the cause, Lane is in the midst of living 30 days in the dark. Wearing blindfolds and a special pair of blinding goggles, Lane is experiencing vision impairment at increasing levels over the course of the month of March.
“I want to finally get an idea of just how my mom sees the world,” Lane said. “So for 30 days in March, I will be living life as a blind person. I will go through this in three stages to get an idea of the varying degrees of blindness. The first 10 days I will have a mask that takes away all my peripheral vision, leaving me with tunnel vision. The right eye of the mask is also covered with plastic wrap to blur the vision out of that eye. The second 10 days I will have a mask that gives me no central vision, and a lack of peripheral vision. This will give me an idea of what people with LHON and several other conditions see the world like.
“The final mask will leave me completely in the dark. It is rare that a person loses total vision, many total blind people still see even some light or shadows, but this will give me an understanding of what those without any vision experience.”
Lane is wearing special masks from The Foundation Fighting Blindness that mimic the varying degrees of blindness.
He further explained, “So as to not damage my own eyes during this I will be using those two masks for the first two-three weeks and the final week I will be completely in the dark. There will be times during the day on days I work that I cannot be blindfolded because of my job, but I would say that for at least 20 hours a day I will be. I will do all of my daily activities blindfolded, so showering, brushing my teeth, shaving, getting dressed, eating, going out, working out, etc.”
Lane is the promotions and marketing manager for Bingo Pet Salon in Downtown Royal Oak. “I will be attending some meetings and working in the salon with the mask to see how it is to adjust to work as a blind person. The most difficult will be the week I’m completely blind,” Lane said.
Early experiments with the blindfolds did not go perfectly. “I did walk into a wall, almost brushed my teeth with Neosporin, and made a PB&J with only a dab of peanut butter and half the bottle of jelly. It was the squeeze bottle and I guess I squeezed too hard,” he said.
He’s also had to remove the blindfold for some tasks at work, and to do his banking because security would not allow it. There have been more positive experiences than negative though. The Rock on Third, a restaurant in Downtown Royal Oak, donated a $30 gift card so Lane and some friends could enjoy a night out, and on March 10, he ran the Corktown 5K Run wearing the blinding mask.
In addition to the mask, Lane is wearing a bright orange T-shirt that says “Ask Me Why?” to help spark conversation, and hopefully encourage people to donate. “Our goal is to raise $25,000 in the month for research into vision loss,” he said.
So far people have been empathetic, but there have been some problems. “A bouncer wanted to throw me out of a club. He said I was dangerous and that I could bump into people,” Lane said. “Some people walk by and say ‘I’m not going to ask,’ and I say that’s fine. I think a lot of people are afraid to ask too. I hear things a lot more now. I can hear people talk about me, saying things like ‘that’s the guy on TV, or if people are talking about whether to ask me or not. Overall people are supportive.”
“One thing I really want people to recognize is that there are different types of blindness. Total darkness is rare, and there are a lot of ways a person’s vision can be impaired and we may not realize it or understand. Like in my mom’s case she has tunnel vision. Most people assume it’s like looking down a tunnel with bright light at the end. But it’s really a very small tunnel and a limited amount of vision they have. Imagine having to turn your entire head to look around. You can’t drive like that, and moving at all takes a lot of work. People don’t get it. Just because somebody doesn’t have a cane doesn’t mean they don’t deserve patience or empathy.”
Lane’s mother worked as a nurse before her vision failed. She had slipped at work and broken her leg. While recovering she stumbled and hit her head, only because of short-term memory loss it took a while before doctors figured out what caused her to lose vision. She’s had very limited tunnel vision for over ten years. “She used to be a patient care attendant, but she can’t do that now. You can’t draw blood with this type of vision… It’s depressing to think that my mom’s world is this small.”
Lane is accepting donations from the people he talks to, and online. He’s also posting nightly reports that he types blindfolded, on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fiftytwo4mom, along with pictures of his activities.
There are a few ways people can donate. They can use the general donation page at www.fiftytwo4mom.org, they can donate on the special 30 Days In The Dark page at www.30days.stayclassy.org. Or they can mail donations using the contact info on the website.
FiftyTwo4Mom is a 501(c)3 organization set up to increase awareness of optic nerve disorders; raise money for the funding of research into causes, treatments, and cures; and to help fund programs to assist individuals who suffer from such disorders. All donations raised by FiftyTwo4Mom benefit the International Foundation for Optic Nerve Disease (IFOND) and the Foundation for Fighting Blindness (FFB) to fund research done in the United States and to fund programs to help people who suffer from Optic Nerve and other eye conditions.