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24 June 2024

Glaucoma Awareness Week: A family’s story of resilience and support

A collage of family photos. Text reads: Wayne's family story.

With Glaucoma Awareness Week (24-30 June 2024) under way, we’re highlighting the importance of regularly eye examinations, commonly called eye tests, and learning about your family eye health history. This year, we’re featuring the inspiring story of Wayne and Gethin Bebb, a father and son from Wales, who are sharing their journey with glaucoma to raise awareness and encourage proactive eye health.

Wayne Bebb’s life with glaucoma

Wayne Bebb has always known that glaucoma runs in his family. “My gran, my mother, my aunties, and cousins all have glaucoma. It’s quite prolific in our family. My gran went blind from glaucoma, and my mother, who was diagnosed at birth, started losing her sight in her late 30s.” Wayne was also diagnosed with glaucoma at birth. “Glaucoma has always been a part of my life. When I was young, I wanted to learn all about it, so I became an expert in a way.”

In the UK, it’s estimated that 700,000 people have glaucoma, but half of them are unaware they have it. For most, glaucoma is first detected during a routine eye test, by an optometrist. While anyone can get glaucoma, those with a family history are at least four times more likely to get it. This heightened risk underscores the importance of finding out if there’s a history of glaucoma in your own family.

Speaking to family: Wayne’s perspective

As a father, Wayne emphasises the importance of discussing glaucoma with his children and relatives. “It’s a conversation I constantly have with my family. My eldest son lives away, and we also have relatives living abroad. We often talk about it, and I remind them to have regular eye tests so glaucoma can be detected early. It’s a topic I regularly bring up with them because they’re at increased risk due to our family history.”

This Glaucoma Awareness Week, we encourage you to be like Wayne and talk to your family about glaucoma. If you have glaucoma, sharing your diagnosis with family members will help them understand their increased risk and the importance of regular eye tests.

Gethin posing for a photo in front of a Tardis police box.

Gethin Bebb: The next generation

Earlier this year, Wayne’s 13-year-old son, Gethin, was diagnosed with glaucoma during a routine eye test when he didn’t suspect anything was wrong. Gethin’s diagnosis makes him the third generation in their family living with the disease. “I was quite surprised when I found out I had it. Although it was sort of expected since it runs in the family, it still shocked me a bit,” Gethin shares.

Gethin is now passionate about encouraging others to get their eyes checked regularly. “Just take the eye test. Routine eye tests now could mean the difference between being able to see 10 years from now. You might think it’s just a waste of half an hour, but it’s worth it. If my dad had never asked me to get my eyes checked, I wouldn’t have known that I have glaucoma.”

Navigating glaucoma together

“Glaucoma has had a big impact on my daily life,” shared Gethin. “I have to take eye drops every day and take time out of school for hospital appointments. I was quite stressed and panicked at first when I got my diagnosis. I thought I would need an operation right away, but I didn’t. Although the eye drops sting a bit, it’s not too bad.”

Wayne’s support has been crucial in helping Gethin manage the disease. “As a dad, my priority is to remind him about his eye drops,” Wayne says. “During the initial diagnosis, he was understandably stressed, but I offered reassurance and tried to ease his fears. We’re still navigating this journey together. Gethin has also asked me a million questions, and I’ve done my best to address each one—it’s just part of the process.”

Gethin appreciates his father’s support. “Dad has been a constant source of reassurance, always there to lend a hand and remind me about my eye drops,” he acknowledges. “At first, I thought he was nagging, but now I understand the importance of regular treatment.”

Gethin sitting on a police motorbike.

Raising awareness and taking action

Throughout Glaucoma Awareness Week, Wayne and Gethin will be appearing on radio and hopefully TV stations to share their story and encourage others to find out if there’s a family history of glaucoma. As a parent, Wayne’s advice to other parents is clear: “Get them tested; it’s easy to do at your local optician’s. Checking their eye pressures is crucial. If your child is diagnosed, it’s not the end of the world. Glaucoma shouldn’t hinder their life—they can still live normally. I know it’s worrisome because it affects their sight, but there are many treatment options available nowadays. Early detection is key to maintaining a normal life.”

To anyone who is newly diagnosed, he advises, “Early intervention can save your sight or reduce any further impact on your vision.”

Do you know your family’s eye health history?

Understanding the risk of glaucoma within families and prioritising regular eye check-ups is crucial. We hope the Bebb family’s story inspires you to talk to your own family about any history of glaucoma. If you have glaucoma, pick up the phone and speak with your family members about it so they can support you and understand if they’re at increased risk.

If glaucoma runs in your family, you are at least four times more likely to develop it, and early detection is vital in preserving your sight. In Scotland, eye tests are free for everyone. In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the NHS will cover your eye test if you are aged 40 and over and have a close relative with glaucoma.

Understanding your family’s eye health history could be key to preserving your sight. This Glaucoma Awareness Week, take the time to talk to your family and friends, and remind everyone about the importance of getting their eyes tested regularly.