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VisionWalk raises funds for ocular disease research

| Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Notre Dame Biology Club will hold the fifth annual ND VisionWalk Sunday to raise money for the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB) in its efforts to find a cure for retinal degeneration and other ocular diseases.

Jonathan Jou and Sara Hockney, both senior biology majors, are this year’s walk co-chairs. Jou said University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh served as the inspiration for the first ND VisionWalk in 2010.

“Five years ago, there was a student named Maria Sellers, who went to visit Father Hesburgh during his office hours and found out he suffers from retinal degeneration,” Jou said. “She started [ND] VisionWalk [after] speaking to Dr. David Hyde, who does retinal regeneration research.”

Retinal degeneration occurs when cells in the back of the eye start to die, and gradually cause loss of all central vision, Hockney said.

The event is a five-kilometer walk beginning at the Irish Green, where participants can purchase t-shirts and sunglasses and participate in a silent auction prior to the walk, Hockney said.

“Our big seller [in the silent auction] every year is a Notre Dame football helmet,” Jou said.

All proceeds from the event go to the FFB, which supports VisionWalks all over the country, Hockney said.

The FFB’s mission is to “drive the research that will provide preventions, treatments and cures for people affected by … the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases,” according to its website.

Last year, approximately 200 people, many of whom were residents of the surrounding South Bend community, participated in the event, Hockney said. The co-chairs said they set a course that winds through campus to offer a view of campus for visiting participants.

“A lot of people are coming who are not on campus very much [and] who want to go through classic Notre Dame areas,” Hockney said.

The past four walks have been successful, and last year’s event raised about $10,000, Jou said. This year, the co-chairmen said they hope to raise at least $13,000.

Jou and Hockney have been involved in the event for the past few years and assuming the roles of co-chairmen was very important to them.

“Research [in retinal degeneration] is making progress, but [this event] is about raising awareness and getting people involved in a cause you care about,” Hockney, whose grandmother suffers from retinal degeneration, said.

“I thought [ND VisionWalk] was a way to get involved with doing things now that are going to make a difference,” she said.

Similarly, Jou said the ND VisionWalk allows him to make a bigger, immediate contribution to the medical research field.

“It was a way to give back to research field,” he said. “Science is trending toward philanthropic funding. I think that events like these are becoming more and more important and will carry more weight in the future.”

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