Empowerment through change

Jonathan Goerlach, Ambassador of Save Sight Institute, talks about some of the challenges he has faced recently in life and with impaired vision, and how he has turned the change into an empowering experience.

How do you feel when you think about changing something in your life? Does the thought of moving to a new location or traveling overseas make you anxious? How about the feeling you get when contemplating a career change or following your passion?

In my own life, I have found that change can be the hardest obstacle to tackle. It is confronting and throws me outside my comfort zone, but I’ve learned over time and from harsh experience that the grey area, that unfamiliar space beyond what I know, is actually where I learn the most about myself.

Recently, after two years living in Canberra, I decided to move to Melbourne. In Canberra I had successfully set myself up with the perfect training environment for my Paratriathlon goals: I lived and studied on campus at the University of Canberra and worked in a job I enjoyed. My long-distance relationship, however, was becoming more challenging (and costly) so I decided to take a risk and leave the comfortable environment in search of something new and exciting, the next chapter in my life.

Sadly, my relationship ended soon after moving to Melbourne. As if moving to a new city as a vision-impaired person wasn’t challenging enough! This is when I truly found myself uncomfortable, unsure and having to call on all my courage to make decisions and move forward.

What should I do next? Should I move back to Canberra and settle back into the comfortable life I was enjoying before? That seemed too easy. I firmly believed that everything in life happens for a reason and that it was up to me to interpret this experience in order to move forward. Instead of focusing on my feeling of dismay and disappointment, I deliberately chose to see it as opportunity. I was in Melbourne for a reason. It was up to me to get out and find the opportunities on offer.

A few months have since passed and whilst the move was initially very challenging, I now feel confident and reassured. In this new phase of my life, I am happier than I’ve ever been. I’m exceeding expectations in my chosen sport, working with amazing people, and immersing myself in the disability and sporting networks.

I’m at this point because I empowered myself to do what was necessary, I challenged myself, and I focused on creating a new environment which could help me achieve my athletic and disability advocacy goals.

Part of the process has been making sacrifices – of time, of comfort, of paid work – but this is my story and my journey, and I feel that I’m on the right track.

As Ambassador to the Save Sight Institute I’m proud to be able to make a difference to other vision impaired young people. I’m focused on proving that vision loss doesn’t hold you back from sporting greatness, and I know that my story is just beginning!

My advice to anyone considering or avoiding change in their life is to embrace disruption, trust yourself and connect with others. Try something new today and decide to be positive about it – whatever happens you’ll be learning and transforming and that’s what life is all about!

Queen’s Birthday Weekend Celebrations at Government House

Vice Regal Patron of the Save Sight Institute, the  NSW Governor His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), and his wife Mrs Hurley will host an Open House and Family Picnic at NSW’s historic Government House on Sunday 12th June from 10am – 4pm.

The event will be held to commemorate Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday.

“This year marks an important milestone for Her Majesty and I hope the people of NSW will join us in commemorating the extraordinary achievements of our longest serving monarch,” said Governor Hurley.

“The Open House and Family Picnic day is a wonderful opportunity to explore Government House and its gardens and learn more about the history of one of Sydney’s most impressive buildings.”

The House will be open for self-guided tours and visitors will be able to explore all the State Rooms, including the drawing room, formal dining room and the grand ballroom.

Visitors will also be able to wander through the harbourside gardens, and enjoy lunch on the eastern terrace and lawn.

“Mrs Hurley and I encourage the public to bring a picnic and rug, and to soak up some winter sun on the lawns. Government House guides will be on hand to answer questions visitors may have.”

Entertainment will be provided throughout the day by the NSW Corrective Services Band and the Rural Fire Service and the State Emergency Services will be running a sausage sizzle to raise money for their organisations.

A number of Vice Regal Patronage organisations will also be represented at the event and donations will be welcomed at the entrance. The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Royal Life Saving Society NSW are among the charitable organisations who’ll share donations.

The Open House and Picnic Day will be held from 10am to 4pm. Visitors will be invited to make a donation on entry.

A letter to my eight year old self

The following letter has been written by 15 year old Sacha Thomas, youth ambassador for Save Sight Institute.

Sacha was born with oculocutaneous albinism, a condition which affects colouring (pigmentation) of the skin, hair, and eyes. Affected individuals typically have very fair skin and white or light-colored hair, and a reduced pigmentation of the colored part of the eye (iris) and the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). People with this condition usually have vision problems such as reduced sharpness; rapid, involuntary eye movements (nystagmus); and increased sensitivity to light (photophobia).


Dear 8 year old Sacha,

This is your fifteen year old Year 10 self, writing this letter to inform you of the many exciting, sad, happy, and scary things that are to come. There are many experiences you will go through with very different outcomes and natures, and they will all shape you into the wonderfully independent person (with self-belief) who is writing this letter to you today.

To start off I just want to say that you presently have an amazing support network of family, friends and others that are there to sustain you through everything, and they continue to do so to this day. You have been so lucky with all your teachers and support people. You will continue to like each new person and appreciate the individual gifts, insights and experiences that they will bring.

From when you are eight until now, quite a lot of things will happen and change in your life, including relocating to Sydney twice, starting high school, having two major eye surgeries and many more trials.

There are two things that I have mentioned above that I really want to talk to you about and expand on. The first one is starting high school. Starting high school will be very scary for you as you will come from such a small primary school, moving into a much bigger mainstream primary school for a year and then two years later to high school. It will be terrifying, but all of your fears will go away as soon as you set foot in your wonderful school. You will instantly feel accepted and there will be amazing people there wanting to help you and make your time there as smooth as possible. There is nothing to worry about with this. You will be just fine.

Secondly: you’ll have major eye operations –  one in 2012 and another in 2014. This will be scary and you’ll be riddled with fear. However, you will overcome your fear and you will be so happy afterwards because these operations will actually improve your sight and make so many more opportunities available for you. During your recoveries you will be surrounded by so many incredible people who just want to help you and make it as easy as can be.

You will gain physical independence through great support, but more importantly by daring to challenge yourself. When you do this, you will find that the world is there to assist you in what you desire to achieve.

That’s all for this letter, I’m sure I’ll be writing to you again soon but until then just enjoy living your life and enjoy being young and innocent with no responsibility.

Love 15 year old Sacha x

SSI researcher wins Vivid Sydney health pitch

Clinical Professor Stephanie Watson, head of the Ocular Repair Group at Save Sight Institute, has been awarded first place prize for her ‘Sutureless Surgery’ product design pitched yesterday at Vivid Sydney’s Building Better Futures for Health product design challenge.

Clinical Professor Stephanie Watson, head of the Ocular Repair Group at Save Sight Institute, has been awarded first place prize for her ‘Sutureless Surgery’ product design pitched yesterday at Vivid Sydney’s Building Better Futures for Health product design challenge.

In response to alarming rises in health care costs and a rapidly ageing population, ide Group joins Australia’s push to find and invest in fresh, new ideas. Similar to a product idea pitching competition, yesterdays event was unlike anything you have ever seen before.

Professor Watson presented her innovative Sutureless Surgery product design proposal to a panel of judges at the Vivid Sydney tournament, where the best and brightest of Australia’s health professionals battled it out for $25,000 to support the translation of their idea into a commercially viable reality.

Sutures are used for eye wounds and surgery, however they can have a number of disadvantages, including infection. Professor Watson’s product proposal removes the need to use sutures in the eye, instead using an innovative laser bioadhesive which can be rapidly applied to the eye with high-burst pressure. This health innovation is also capable of delivering anti-infective and anti-inflammatory agents into the wound.

According to Professor Watson “I’m really honoured to have this project selected by the panel of judges, and really pleased to be able to progress its development with the grant. Sutures cause complications for many people who have eye surgery, and this concept has the potential to have a really positive impact on the recovery time and comfort, as well as minimising infection risks for the many people who have eye surgery every year. I’d like to thank the ide Group, Vivid Sydney and all of the judging panel for your support of this project and I look forward to making it a reality.”


C/Prof Watson pitched on behalf of her product design collaborating team at Ocurep, including John Foster, Geoff Waring and Mike Skalsky.