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When you meet 16-year old Danielle Fiarito, who has had glaucoma for over 15 years, it puts a smiling and determined face on the disease.
Danielle is as busy as a high school junior can be, studying hard, working on projects that let her explore her love of graphics and TV production, and running cross country and track.
Danielle is an athlete who already runs the mile in under 6 minutes and is striving to improve her personal best time and qualify for the Illinois state championships this spring. She’s a competitor because she’s had to be. She’s been fighting problems with her eyes for all her life. “I can’t really remember when I didn’t have glaucoma,” she says.
Her father Dan, a financial advisor with Edward Jones & Company, remembers how frustrating and time consuming the trips to doctor were while the family was looking for answers. Her mother, Maureen, a marketing representative for Carter’s and Oshkosh, speaks eloquently about how her daughter has courageously endured nine different surgeries. Her younger brothers, 11-year old Jake and 7-year old Corey also serve to inspire, and of course, at times, torment their older sister.
But it’s the words of Danielle, in an essay she wrote for school, that tell the story the best:
“People just don’t understand, because they don’t go through what I go through and I don’t think they would be able to. One day I was reading a book and a girl asked me if I could read that book. ‘Yes’ I replied at first wondering why the heck she asked me that until she said ‘No I mean can you see what you are reading?’ I wanted to tell her and scream at her, ‘Yes! What the heck do you think I’m doing if I’m not reading this book?!’ But I simply just answered ‘yes’ and kept reading, because I knew this girl has no idea what it’s like to have one eye. Yes, I’m blind in my left eye. I don’t even remember when I lost my sight in it. Luckily for me my right eye has better than 20/20 vision.”
Danielle thinks about glaucoma every day. She has taken the responsibility to put her drops in herself, and that’s the key to her keeping her vision intact.
“She gets up early, before 6 a.m. and put the drops in, and then waits ten minutes and then puts them in again. It’s a process that she does three times a day because she has to, and she never forgets,” said Maureen Fiarito.
“She’s a very good athlete, but we have had to be cautious and protective of her sight so some of the contact sports like soccer and basketball have had to be put aside. She has thrown her passion into running and we are very proud of her,” said her father, Dan.
And the Fiaritos have taken their competitive spirit and aimed it at the disease that Danielle is fighting.
“We know that glaucoma can happen to anyone. Danielle is living proof of that. So as a family, we feel compelled to educate others about the seriousness of this disease,” said Maureen.
Since 2003 the Fiaritos have been helping the Glaucoma Research Foundation through a variety of fundraisers, and have raised thousands of dollars. Danielle has been active in helping raise awareness and raising money for research in the hope that we can better understand the disease and ultimately find a cure.
“My experiences have made me who I am,” Danielle said, “a strong person with many accomplishments so far, and definitely more to come. I know I can do anything if I want to, if I give it my all. My situation is never going to stop me. It may bring me down for a day, but I’ll come back fighting.”
Article by Natalie Winegar for Google News. Adapted for the Glaucoma Research Foundation website by Andrew Jackson, staff editor.
Last reviewed on November 29, 2011