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At the risk of sounding like I am stuffing the ballot box, I nominate the Foundation for Fighting Blindness (FFB) http://www.blindness.org

Blindness is scary. No wonder. While going blind doesn't take your life away, it certainly turns it completely upside down.

Imagine that you go to the eye glass store around the corner, expecting nothing more than a prescription and picking up a couple of pairs of glasses on the “2-For-1 Deal” (which usually isn't so much of a deal after all, but that's another story). Instead, you sit down, and that bright light gets flashed into the back of your eye a lot longer than you ever remember before. The doctor sits back and informs you that you have some weird polysyllabic disease that leads to the gradual degeneration of your retina. And since the doctor has seen this maybe once or twice before in his career, and his last medical update was some 25 years ago when he was in school, his “chair-side” manner leaves a lot to be desired. You sit there in that dark little room crying your eyes out and vaguely remembering some 60 Minute TV show from years ago on macular degeneration (there has been another one more recently on Retinitis Pigmentosa and FFB) and thinking “Ohmygod I am going blind.” The doctor has no information to provide, no comfort, no solace. All he has is stark pronouncements … “don't worry, there is nothing you can do. You can't make it worse, you can't make it better, you are just going to have to wait and go blind.” Your mind screams, “What the heck do you mean, don't worry.” Try telling that to a thirty-something American who thinks there has to be an answer to everything. You rush to the biggest of biggest bookstores that you can find in Washington (and there are many), head to the health section, and look up retinitis pigmentosa in every medical reference book. But all they say is “A genetic condition characterized first by night blindness and then by loss of peripheral vision. Since there are no treatments, it almost inevitably leads to eventual blindness.” You try a few more book stores. The story is the same. So, you start doing research on the internet, and you find the Foundation For Fighting Blindness. And, for the first time since you were sitting in that dark little room, you feel like you can breathe again. This brings me to the first criteria for a Foolanthropy … education. FFB provides information for individuals, families and friends that are suffering from RP, Macular Degeneration and other retinal degenerative diseases. And the information is not as scary as the “you are going blind” that you heard at the eye doctor. They provide a realistic assessment of the pace of the disease, information about the disease in terms that don't require a medical degree to understand, support for coping with the disease and the changes in lifestyle that it entails, and hope that medical advances – being made because of research funding provided by FFP – make innovative treatments just over the horizon. And, as you begin to education yourself, you find that you can live with this disease, and you can accept that you are going blind, but that you can also hope like heck that modern medical miracles are going to be able to arrest its progress before your vision gets to the point that you feel you are looking out of empty paper towel tubes. By the way, if you are interested in what the world looks like to someone with RP, there are web sites with images, including:
http://www.retina-international.org/losspvis.htm and
http://members.aol.com/danlrob/MDpeople/thrueyesRP.html

I've learned a lot since I found out I was going blind. And I learned a lot because of the information and hope offered by a group like FFB that helps you pick up the pieces and move on constructively. But moving from education, you want to talk about a charity that can jazz people's interest (just look at the number of posts!). But it is not really the number of posts that you should look at. If you want to talk about a charity that doesn't lack imagination and creativity – than you have to talk about FFB. On the research front, the efforts supported by FFB are staggering, drawing on the absolute cutting edge. I remember when I was little I watched the TV series “The Bionic Man.” I never expected that I would be hoping that FFB supported research will give me a bionic eye. But experiments are already taking place on implanting silicon chips in the eye that may eventually provide enough visual recognition for a blind person to navigate without assistance. Other research draws on the human genome project, identifying the genes that cause RP and experimenting with innovative methods of gene therapy. The more you read about the avenues of research, the more you can't help but to get excited by the possibilities of medical science. And then there is the human dimension, hearing through FFB about people that ski and play cricket and golf and sail, people who are blind but do things that many of who are not (yet) don't have the gumption to get up and do. This is inspiring.

So, I've only gotten through the first two of the tenets for a Foolanthropy … and I could keep going on with the other three. But many of the earlier posts address those. So I end by saying simply that while there are so many good and worthy charities, the FFB - solid rather than sexy – deserves to be considered for the attention that the Foolanthropy campaign can give to an organization that will help not only those suffering from RP, but other retinal degenerative diseases like MD – which, in the U.S., is the leading cause of blindness in adults over 55.
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