The realization that there were so many people with vision disorders—almost 10 million Americans—but there was so little public awareness made Laughlin want to bring more widespread attention to their struggles.
She became involved with the FFB. VisionWalk is the Foundation’s signature fundraising event started in 2006 which has raised $25 million to date for sight-saving research (the Foundation has raised over $500 million since its inception since 1971). The FFB helped fund early research for the recently FDA-approved Argus II retinal prosthesis, a tiny device placed inside the eye that can allow profoundly impaired people to see basic shadows and large shapes. It’s also funded gene therapy treatments, where researchers are able to inject a healthy gene using a virus that carries it to the eye’s damaged retina in hope of regeneration.
“I think we’re right on the cusp of finding a treatment,” said Laughlin.
For her part, she’s coordinating the second Hampton Roads VisionWalk on April 28 near her home in Virginia Beach. She said her first walk was a huge success, with 600 people participating (Laughlin had hoped for 100), raising $78,000 (their goal was $40,000). More important than the monetary goals, Laughlin said the walk shone a light on people with vision disorders."
“People who walked by asked, ‘Who are you guys?’” she said. “It gave the blind and vision-impaired community a chance to talk and commune with one another.”
In addition to the walks, Laughlin works with a local restaurant, Y’Not Pizza, to sponsor Dining in the Dark nights, where patrons are invited to wear special masks that simulate two retinal diseases—retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration.
“They find those glasses to be a little disturbing,” she said. “[But] it gives you an idea.”
The restaurant also donated 10 percent of the entire day’s proceeds from all four of its locations to VisionWalk.
Laughlin spends two or three days a month giving presentations about vision disorders to local schools and community organizations.
“It’s important for me to have people understand,” she said. And, not letting her loss of sight keep her down, she volunteers in the surgery waiting room front desk to stay in touch with her CRNA roots.
Laughlin has taken what, for many, would be a debilitating disease and used it to fire her motivation to raise the public’s awareness and help research funding. She’s devoted to making life better for the current generation of vision-impaired Americans while, hopefully, giving sight to the next generation.