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Low-Vision Support Fund Advances Patient Care, Research

GORRIE FAMILY GIFT SUPPORTS ALIE B. GORRIE LOW VISION INITIATIVE

For those with low vision, tasks as simple as reading, writing, or driving can be incredibly challenging. Those affected may rely on others for help with daily activities that others take for granted and often struggle to achieve independence.

“One of the real challenges we see is connecting people with information,” says Jim Gorrie, CEO of Birminghambased construction firm Brasfield & Gorrie.

The Gorrie family has personally experienced the challenges of life with low vision. Alison and Jim Gorrie’s daughter, Alie B. Gorrie, was diagnosed as an infant with optic nerve hypoplasia, a form of vision impairment caused by underdeveloped optic nerves. The condition can cause a variety of vision problems, including a lack of peripheral vision and even blindness. Alie B.’s vision is severely impaired in one eye and measures 20/80 in the other.

During the past 22 years, the Gorries have become dedicated advocates for vision research. Most recently, the family gave $500,000 to the Alie B. Gorrie Low Vision Support Fund in the UAB Department of Ophthalmology.

Jim says the family’s personal journey through diagnosis and treatment was made easier by the doctors at UAB Medicine, especially Alie B.’s doctor of 22 years, Martin Cogen, MD, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, and Dawn DeCarlo, OD, Director of the UAB Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation, a collaborative effort between UAB’s Department of Ophthalmology and School of Optometry.

“Dr. DeCarlo is a wonderful professional who has spent hundreds of hours with us as we explored how to live with low vision and then later how to help others,” Jim says. “We had significant help to explore any and every possible option for Alie B. However, we realize that many families may not be able to access the system.”

In 2008, Alie B. created Songs for Sight, a series of musical events to raise money, awareness, and understanding for low vision. Her efforts have generated more than $1 million for the UAB Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation, and in 2014, Songs for Sight was awarded the inaugural Hall Thompson Hero for Sight Award by Sight Savers America.

“We were very thankful for our doctors and advocates at UAB who helped us navigate the challenges that exist for people with low vision,” Jim says. “We are very fortunate to have such a comprehensive resource right here in Birmingham. Part of our continued work will be to help develop peer groups and general information to raise awareness of options for families who may not know where to turn.”

Dr. DeCarlo says for children with vision impairment who don’t know others with low vision, simply meeting other kids who have been through some of the same struggles can be incredibly empowering. The Songs for Sight Youth Low Vision Support group is run by the Center for Low Vision Rehabilitation and provides educational, recreational, and peer support opportunities to the families of children with vision impairment. Funding also helps provide orientation and mobility services that assist patients in navigating their environments more independently and safely.

“These services are not covered by insurance, and there is very little availability elsewhere, with long wait times for services,” Dr. DeCarlo says. “The funds also allow financially needy patients to receive devices, even hightech bioptics and electronic magnification, which will enhance the quality of their lives.”

The Low Vision Support Fund also contributes to groundbreaking research. Jim is particularly excited about gene therapy research being conducted at UAB.

“We don’t pretend to understand it, but it is encouraging to hear the optimism that exists at UAB,” Jim says. “UAB is at a very exciting point in its history, and we are pleased to be in a position to make a meaningful gift in an area we are so connected to.”

Jim says he hopes the funding will continue to raise awareness of options for those families that may not know where to turn.

“At the end of the day, we hope that the Low Vision Support Fund will help families get the help they need and deserve,” Jim says. “Through our previous efforts with Songs for Sight, we know the importance of raising awareness, and we also believe that there continues to be a large unmet need in Alabama. We have seen significant progress in this area through UAB and other great support organizations such as Sight Savers, The Lions Club, and Impact Alabama, and we are excited to continue to support these efforts.”