Life after cone-rod dystrophy diagnosis

He can’t stop smiling and is hoping his new sporting success will lead him to the Commonwealth Games next year. Serge, a VisAbility client from Mount Barker, who has Cone-rod dystrophy (link opens in new window), clutches his gold medal with pride.

Serge has just been named 2021 All Ability Singles State Championships in Lawn Bowls and now he’s heading to the Australian National Championships in Port Macquarie in New South Wales.

Serge standsin front of a bowling green in his bowls uniform with gold medal around his neck
Wearing his medal after the All Ability Singles State Championships in Lawn Bowls

Regional Occupational Therapist, Julie Elliott, provides Serge with some occupational therapy support. Julie has been suggesting some modifications for his house because of his deteriorating eyesight.

Cone-rod dystrophy diagnosis

Two years ago, at the age of 57, he was told he was losing his sight due to Cone-rod dystrophy (link opens in new window) (link opens in new window). It’s a rare genetic disease that affects both the cone and rod cells of the retina. Serge, from Mount Barker, was employed as a bus driver for Busy Blue Bus Tours, when he noticed his vision changing.

“I wasn’t just devastated when I got my diagnosis, I also became very angry. I lost the central vision in my eyes and now have limited peripheral vision.”

Serge – VisAbility client

Joining a bowls club

Serge has always enjoyed different types of sport. He’d played ten-pin bowls when he lived in Adelaide, and had also secured a gold medal for shooting.

“I’d played bowls a few times with some friends at work, so I thought I’d try it out,” Serge explains.

“I am a social person and through my job, I had met many interesting people. Playing bowls has opened up a great social network, it cheers me up no end.”

Serge – VisAbility client

Blind bowls are the same as lawn bowls. The object is to roll the bowl towards a smaller ball known as a jack. It’s a low-impact, therapeutic form of exercise. Members with vision impairment have a director who prompts and guides them during the game.

Practice makes perfect 

Serge bowls every other day, sometimes up to four hours a day. He belongs to the WA Vision Impaired and Blind Lawn Bowlers Club. The club organises social events and functions including a recent wine tasting evening with Alex Taylor, the founder of Great Southern vineyard Poacher’s Ridge.

Serge stands next to a vineyard owner who's giving a talk about wine. There are glasses on the table in front of him.
Serge enjoys the social aspect of bowls as well. Here he is at a recent wine tasting evening held at the club.

“Yes, I enjoy playing bowls, but sport is a great way of forming new bonds and friendships and I’d recommend it to others.”

Ahead of the Australian National Championships, Serge has been regularly coming to Perth to practice with the rest of the Blind Bowls team.

“It’s giving me regular exercise as well. My wife doesn’t play, but she supports me and will come to Perth when we’re training.”

Now he’s officially the All Ability State Singles Champion, and he’s through to the All Ability National Championships taking place in Port Macquarie.

VisAbility’s support

Since his diagnosis of cone-rod dystrophy, Serge has been receiving support from VisAbility Occupational Therapist, Julie Elliott, who is based in Albany. One of his goals was to make his bathroom more accessible to his own needs.

“Our role as therapists is to empower people with information, so they can have confidence to reach their goals,” Julie explains.

“Serge received some information on small low vision aids, like the talking PenFRIEND. This enables him to identify items around his home, independently and confidently. I’ve also worked with Serge and his wife to discuss bathroom solutions that prevent falls and promote energy conservation.”

Julie is just one of VisAbility’s regional therapists, who visit clients in their own homes in regional areas.

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