%533%right%Life for Chip Goehring '77 changed dramatically when he went to what he thought would be a routine eye exam. Goehring, then a 39-year-old lawyer, was diagnosed with macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 55. "They were saying, statistically, in ten to fifteen years you could be legally blind, and that was frightening. And the first thing I thought was, 'Nobody's going to want to ride with me in the car.'"
Macular degeneration is an incurable eye disease. The macula, which focuses central vision, is the central portion of the retina. The degeneration of the macula can affect the ability to drive or read. Though there is no cure, there are ways to slow the progression. Use of antioxidants and supplements containing zinc, for example, may help prevent vision loss. Goehring includes beta carotene, lutein, and zinc in his own diet. "I can see perfectly well, thank goodness. . . . I've taken that for all these years, and my eyes have never gotten any worse. . . . It doesn't make things reverse, but it can slow down the progression. So I think I was damn lucky."
Proper diet, exercise, and avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke and unfiltered sunlight also can reduce the risk for vision loss, he says.
Goehring, who lives in western Massachusetts, learned about his disease on his own. Two years after his diagnosis, he decided to get the word out to the public. He left his law practice and later founded the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, or AMDF, a group that seeks to educate the public about the disease, raise funds, and support scientific research. "Something in me decided to start the foundation," he said. "Partly because I had heard of glaucoma, certainly, I had heard of cataracts . . . but I had never heard of this. . . . And most people I talked to at that point had never heard of it."
%534%left%AMDF, a nonprofit, publicly supported organization, has set up a peer review group of doctors and leading researchers and is currently working on a video for people diagnosed with macular degeneration. The group is working with an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker and with several celebrities, including Don Knotts, Dabney Coleman, and Marla Runyan, a legally blind Olympic runner. AMDF provides information through its newsletter, In the Spotlight (circulated nationwide and in 15 foreign countries), and on the Web at www.macular.org. "We started a Web site, and I couldn't believe it. Money just started coming in out of the blue," Goehring said.
An administrative science major at Colby, Goehring says he has always been a bit of an entrepreneur. During his years on Mayflower Hill, he started a poster business, copyrighting a poster of the Beatles, which he sold through Rolling Stone. Goehring recalled, "I was distracted . . . so it took me quite a while to get through school. . . .[Colby] showed me great support by allowing me to take my time."
After Colby, he went on to law school and practiced law until 1995. Was it hard to leave law? "Emphatically, no," he said, laughing. "I think law's a great thing to know, in all seriousness. It wasn't a way of life for me . . . but it is a great thing to know."
With his sight stable, Goehring spends some of his time restoring old Mercedes cars. He also is designing and building a Federal-style house in the Berkshires.
His life now is devoted, at least in part, to making information about macular degeneration available and to raising money for research. "We were, I think, the first one that was really geared to younger people. Part of what I wanted to do was to get the younger people and say, 'Hey, this thing exists. There are precautions you can take now that will reduce your risk' for an awful lot of people. And I think that's important.'"
Anne Marie Sears '03