Jeweller’s 24 karat advice

Dealing with AMD – Tauranga jeweller Don Stewart. Photo by Bruce Barnard.

There’s an eye chart up on the jeweller’s cluttered workshop wall. Does that tell us something? And it’s pointless showing him the email. “Sorry, can’t read it.”

Then he points to his hearing aid. “There’s also this. But everything below neck level is still working perfectly well,” says the 88-year-old Devonport Rd business personality Don Stewart.

“I can’t see very well but I still think I am doing a lot,” says Don, back at his Piccadilly Arcade shop again today as he has been, every day, for the past 60 years.

However behind Don’s joking is a serious message about the leading cause of blindness in New Zealanders aged over 50 – affecting one in seven people.

He wants to talk about it to help others. “Macular degeneration,” says Don. He didn’t even know what it was until he was diagnosed aged 80.

“People don’t know about AMD and this may help them recognise the problem and deal with it.” Because Don’s been dealing with it.

AMD – age-related macular degeneration. It causes damage to the macula, the tiny central part of the retina at the back of the eye. The macula is the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision which allows us to see objects that are straight ahead.

The loss of central vision can interfere with simple everyday activities, like the ability to see faces, drive, read, write or do close work like cooking or fixing things around the house.

“I was seeing flashing red lights in my right eye. They told me I needed an injection directly into my eye otherwise I would go blind.” Don can see people cringing at the thought of an injection in the eye.

“Not painful…. the idea is painful, the procedure is not,” reassures Don who’s endured many, many injections in the eye. They deaden the eye and then go through with the procedure.

“That right eye had scarring so they couldn’t salvage it. I can see the periphery but can’t see the centre. Whereas I might have lost my sight completely had I not had the injections.”

But he still had his good left eye. “So I could work, drive – everything was fine.” Until one day he went into the shop, opened the mail and couldn’t read it. So it was back to the clinic smartly. “Honestly you wouldn’t know the injection had happened – nothing worse than a bee sting.”

“My left eye has improved greatly. I get an injection in my eye and take a taxi back to work. Everything good. ”

There are two types of AMD – dry AMD is the most common, affecting 85-90 per cent of sufferers. Vision loss is gradual and rarely severe. Wet AMD is more aggressive, leading to rapid and severe vision loss. Abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula, leaking fluid and blood and causing permanent damage to the retina.

Symptoms include vision distortion, making straight lines look bent or wavy.

It may have slowed the jeweller but it hasn’t stopped him. “I hope this helps people recognise the problem. You may think you only need new glasses. But all I can say is see the doctor, go to the clinic and get it done.”

It enabled the jeweller to continue his calling 23 years after he could have retired. There’s a free seminar on macular degeneration on Saturday, August 12 at the Armitage Hotel in Willow St from 10-11.30am.

Learn about the impact of macular degeneration, medical research, and treatments and resources available. To register call 0800 MACULA (622 852) or message