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Sarah’s new start

July 24, 2023
Sarah is standing in front of a pond surrounded by gardens and small waterfalls. Sarah is holding her White Cane and smiling at the camera


Pictured right, Sarah is standing with her white cane in front of Parliament House, Canberra.

In an unexpected turn of events, Sarah needed a new start.
At 35 years old, most young adults are thinking about buying a home, starting a family or travelling the world but for Sarah, it was different.

In February 2022, Sarah needed new contact lenses and to have her vision re-tested. To Sarah’s surprise, she couldn’t read any letters on the chart. After some investigation, Sarah received her official diagnosis in June 2022 of Bilateral Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) – a rare condition characterised by a painless and almost sudden vision loss that develops in young adulthood.

“When I got my diagnosis, I felt like my world was ending. I couldn’t get out of bed, I didn’t want to wash my hair, brush my teeth or pick my kids up from school anymore. I had no motivation to do anything I previously valued,” Sarah said.

Sarah’s husband Christopher couldn’t bare seeing Sarah’s world slowly fall apart, so shortly after the diagnosis he reached out to Guide Dogs. Sarah’s referral was quickly assigned to Natalie ‘Nat’ Paterson (Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist). Nat recalled the first time she met Sarah. “Sarah was clinging onto Christopher and the walls of her home,” said Nat.

Since losing her vision, Sarah had been avoiding the kitchen at all costs in fear of burning or cutting herself. With the help of Occupational Therapist, Chantel Phanthanouvong and Sarah’s own strong will, Sarah gradually started working on living skills such as cooking a meal or making a cup of tea without injuring herself.

She learned to apply adaptive strategies such as safer ways to use a knife, prescribing assistive technology such as talking kitchen scales and environmental modifications like grab rails in the shower or bath. These small modifications have left Sarah feeling much safer and more competent around the house.

Sarah also learnt long-cane skills to help her navigate from her house around the local community. Sarah is now back at the gym, attending acro-aerobics, playing tenpin bowling, and frequently going out to dinner.

“When I started working with my team at Guide Dogs, I realised that I can live the life I want because of how much they believed in me. I feel respected, I feel supported, and I feel appreciated,” said Sarah.

Through the support of Guide Dogs psychologist, Annika Heidel, Sarah has also been able to improve her mental health by creating a toolbox of strategies, self-advocacy skills and developing a sense of identity.

“People always comment on how happy I am, but I always think ‘you didn’t see my before… before Guide Dogs.’ I’d be lost without them.”

Guide Dogs are proud of everything Sarah has achieved. Sarah has shown amazing courage, motivation, and persistence in managing challenging situations and emotions throughout some of the toughest times. We look forward to following Sarah on her journey as she continues to achieve her life goals.