Bouncing her 12-month-old boy, Jaxon, in her arms, Jess finally went to Specsavers after more than two years of putting off her routine eye check up.
The then 30-year-old thought her slightly blurred vision was from too much screen time or even lack of sleep from caring for her baby.
WATCH IN THE VIDEO ABOVE: Jess’ story of vision impairment
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In truth, her vision impairment was from retinal detachment – an emergency situation where a section of tissue has pulled away from blood vessels in the back of the eye.
Jess was losing her sight – quickly.
“I just went in to get a new pair of glasses,” Jess tells 7Life.
“And they were telling me I was going to go blind.
“My mind was racing, I was worried I would never see my baby again.”
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age nine, Jess knew that regular eye exams were important as the disease can often cause slow damage to the retina if untreated.
But apart from using glasses to drive, she never had an issue with her vision.
“I wear glasses, mainly for seeing things at a distance,” she says.
As Jess grew up, married the man of her dreams, Adam, and fell pregnant with their first child, she put regular eye exams on the backburner.
Living on the outskirts of the Snowy Mountain region of NSW, her closest doctor was an hour-and-a-half away.
She traveled back and forth for antenatal appointments but, even with regular optometrist reminders, Jess never booked in for an eye exam.
“I should have gone sooner. They would have caught my eyesight deteriorating,” she says in hindsight.
When Jaxon was born, her optometrist visited was, once again, the last thing on her to-do list.
Then she started to have vision issues.
But the mum just put it down to needing an updated glasses prescription.
Eventually fed up with her blurred vision, when Jaxon was just over 12 months old, she finally made an appointment.
“I walked in and just told them I probably need to update my prescription,” she says.
Almost instantly, the doctor knew something was wrong.
“He just told me I needed to go to the emergency department now,” Jess says.
“My jaw fell to the ground – I just wanted new glasses.”
The doctor explained Jess had extreme damage to her eyes – and if she didn’t act soon, she could lose her sight altogether.
At the hospital, doctors said the damage was so severe she needed immediate surgery to try to prevent any further deterioration.
And following that, she would need multiple rounds of laser treatment on each eye.
Surgeons couldn’t promise they could stop the damage from spreading, just that “they would try their best”, Jess says.
The surgery on her right eye was a success, with doctors able to flatten the piece of tissue that had disconnected from the back of the eye.
After her right eye healed, Jess was able to undergo the same operation for her left – and it, too, was successful.
While surgeons weren’t able to reverse any of the damage, they were confident that, with regular check ups and laser treatment, Jess would not lose her sight completely.
She underwent five cycles of laser eye treatment on each eye – and she has never missed an appointment since.
“My sight isn’t perfect, but surgeons did their best,” Jess says.
“My right eye wanders a little bit and I still have blurred vision for distance.”
When it comes to her favorite pastime, reading, Jess is devastated she can no longer focus on the pages of a book and has had to opt instead for audio books.
She has also given up driving and won’t be able to go back to her work as a Woolworths’ cashier.
“It’s really hard to see screens,” she says.
“My friends laugh when I send them text messages because I think I’m pressing one letter and I’m pressing the one next to it.
“So I send some pretty funny things sometimes.”
While she still suffers from blurriness, she is thankful she can still see her son.
Jess now signs up to an organization called KeepSight, which sends reminders via text when health checks are due.
She wishes she could go back in time and listen to her doctor’s advice.
“Don’t prioritize other things over your health, it is the most important thing,” she says.
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