Making Connections in the LCA Community Provides a Path Forward
Danielle Senick of Norwich, Conn., reached out to Sofia Sees Hope more than three years ago when she needed answers about her deteriorating vision.
Doctors diagnosed Danielle at age 6 months with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), and her parents learned that this rare inherited retinal disease (IRD) would cause retinal degeneration to the point of having little or no vision.
She could see light and shadows, but she noticed a pronounced deterioration in her vision in her early 20s. We asked Danielle to talk about her experiences since she connected with us. Here is her story.
“Though the (vision) changes were subtle, they caused me to realize how little I knew about my condition and I wanted to learn more. I did a little research and stumbled across Sofia Sees Hope. I was intrigued to hear about Sofia’s story, and I wanted to learn more, so I contacted the organization. I heard back, almost immediately, from Danielle Chiaraluce, who worked for the organization at the time.
“We had a lengthy conversation and she told me that she and Laura (Manfre, Co-Founder and Board Chair of Sofia Sees Hope) were interested to learn more about me, and they invited myself and a guest to Dinner in the Dark. I was honored to be invited, and it was a very fun, yet emotional, experience. It was wonderful to have my aunt learn a little bit about what my life is like to have no vision.
“At this event I met Laura, Sofia, Danielle, David Brint, his wife, Betsy, and his son, who also has LCA, and several other influential individuals. I was so honored during the auction to see how many people were willing to contribute their hard-earned money to the cause (including my aunt who bid on a trip to Bali).
Undergoing genetic testing
“Later I spoke with David and he helped me to get in touch with Spark Therapeutics, where I underwent free genetic testing. I had not seen a specialist or done anything about trying to learn about my diagnosis in several years because I often stumbled across roadblocks and it seems that the doctors that I previously had seen were not as educated about LCA. However, this experience was much different.
“I gave a blood sample and sent it to the lab and once my results came in, I spoke with Dr. Jill Harris in great detail about my results. She made me aware that my gene mutation is LCA-CRB1 (LCA8). Unlike LCA-RPE65 (LCA2), (for which there is a federally approved treatment), information about this mutation is still in the works. There is no cure, so I knew all along not to expect a cure and that with genetic testing you must be patient. I joined My Retina Tracker® (a Foundation Fighting Blindness free, secure online registry that helps connect families and enables researchers and doctors to track progress, prevalence and other variables of IRDs to move research forward) and receive emails about any new information on the condition and still remain hopeful.
“About a year later, through social media, I became connected with Kristen Steele of Iowa. (Kristen has LCA10 caused by a
mutation in her CEP290 gene.) She is a remarkable young woman who is extremely confident, well-spoken, and independent, and like me, a very passionate licensed massage therapist.
“When I spoke with her, I was in the process of attaining my license and still in school. I was having a little trouble getting the results from my license test in braille and she told me that was unacceptable and filled me in about her journey and how hard she had to fight to pave the way to get her testing accommodations. When I set up my accommodations with the testing center all I had to do was mention her name and request my accommodations and the center provided me with everything I needed.
“For that I am very thankful. I am now a licensed massage therapist myself and although we are both busy and haven’t talked in a while, Kristen is always available if I ever have any questions about my journey. I was fortunate enough to meet Kristen by attending the LCA Family Conference in 2019 (in Philadelphia). I also attended the family conference with my aunt and mother in 2018 in Mystic (Connecticut) and was quite intrigued by all the speakers.
LCA community welcomes Danielle
“At this conference I also met two individuals that are about my age who both have children with LCA. It was wonderful to meet with them and answer some of the questions that they had about what it was like growing up with LCA and any suggestions they had about being a parent of a child with LCA. As I have received so much guidance and help along the way, it’s wonderful to give back by helping others and giving them advice.
“I have stayed in contact through social media and text messaging with these two individuals, Deanna Carroll and Ashlyn Lincoln, and have potential plans to go down to North Carolina and meet their children! I was able to meet up with them again in 2019 for the Philadelphia family conference. I brought my brother with me as a guest and he was also intrigued to learn so much about my condition.
“There was a plethora of informative speakers from all over the country, and it was amazing to see how far research had come even since 2018 at the last conference. I was especially intrigued to hear Tami’s story (Tami Morehouse, from Ohio, underwent RPE65 gene therapy as part of the LUXTURNA® treatment clinical trials) and how much it changed her life.
“I became quite emotional when she described all the little things that had come from it and changed her life, such as being able to go to her children’s soccer games and cheer them on, actually being able to see them score goals, where before she had to rely on others to describe what was going on.
“The main takeaway from this process has been to continue to remain hopeful and stay involved. It is quite a process and the research is quite extensive and costly, so we would not have been able to come as far as we have without the generosity of others involved with Sofia Sees Hope.
“It’s amazing to see what a little bit of poking around on the Internet has led to and how much it has changed my life. My curiosity and doing a little bit of research to learn about LCA led to my becoming involved with Sofia Sees Hope, receiving genetic testing, attending wonderful events and conferences, and meeting truly amazing individuals, both sight-impaired and sighted.”