Woman creates 'visual memory list' of places to see before she goes blind

A woman is on a mission to tick off all the items on her ‘visual memory list’ before she goes completely blind.

Tiggi Trethowan, wants to pack in as much as possible, including visiting a remote Australian island with a population of nine, and exploring Antarctica.

The 65-year-old lost her sight in her right eye about 15 years ago and is down to 6% sight in the left eye. As Tiggi puts it: ‘My eyesight is hanging off a cliff edge.’

The diagnosis means she will eventually lose her sight completely, and Tiggi says it’s important for her to create a ‘visual memory list’, visiting places she has particularly loved or still wants to travel to.

A sighted guide is always with her on the trips, as well as her black Labrador Jackie, who she got around five years ago through Guide Dogs.

‘If I see a sight that I want to put in my visual memories, I actually always physically stop and click my eyes almost like a camera and consciously store it as a mental photograph,’ she said.

‘Even before I found out I had 6% of my sight in the left eye, I realised that the opportunities others have of being able to look at a beautiful painting or look at pictures in a photo album would not be an option when my sight was completely gone.

‘My choices were to climb into bed, put the duvet over me and never get up again, or get up and revisit places I have loved and people I have loved.’

So far she has been to new places including Patagonia, Chile and Argentina, with the ‘most dramatic’ being Antarctica, which she travelled through on a fishing boat with her guide.

The ‘pinnacle’ of the visual list has been a trip to Wales to see humpback whales.

‘We went to a tiny little scientific station on an island, where scientists work with humpback whales in the area,’ she said.

‘We slept on a beach in these pods and on one day we went to a field where there were over 30 humpback whales.

‘They were just like stepping stones – we were right amongst them, it was so magical.’

Last month Guide Dogs surprised Tiggi by organising for her to take on Go Ape Bracknell’s Treetop Challenge, which includes tree-to-tree crossings and ziplines, with the help of Mark ‘Billy’ Billingham, 57, from Channel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins.

‘There were so many ropes and harnesses, so for somebody with 6% sight, it was a challenge,’ Tiggi said.

‘But I literally threw myself into it and the good thing about being blind is that I can’t see where the ground is, so it didn’t really matter.

‘I can’t tell you how kind Billy was. He never pushed me, but was always there to support.’

Tiggi has advised people who may be worried about losing their sight to ‘never give up, never give in’.

‘It’s a diagnosis. Yes, it could potentially be life-limiting, but it is not life threatening.

‘It is simply a form of renavigation.’

It took some soul searching to reach this point, however, as Tiggi lose her home, ability to drive, and struggled financially following her diagnosis.

‘But after coming to terms with it, I realised that losing my sight has given me more than it has taken away.

‘And Guide Dogs has always been there for me and they assess me and Jackie regularly.’

Remaining items on the list include travelling to Costa Rica to visit Fortuna Sloth Sanctuary, a trip to Kenya, a country she previously visited while working on a documentary with Amref Flying Doctors, and revisiting Dirk Hartog Island, in Australia, which has a population of nine.

Guide Dogs provide a sighted guide service to support people with sight loss to live they life they choose – information can be found at www.guidedogs.org.uk.

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