Mary Walsh opens up about life with macular degeneration as CNIB celebrates a century

Mary Walsh approaches her macular degeneration the same way she tackles anything in life — with humour.

Walsh was diagnosed with eye condition at age 40

Mary Walsh says she needs gigantic font on the Teleprompter, but she hasn't let macular degeneration slow her down. (CBC Arts)

Mary Walsh approaches her eye condition the same way she tackles everything in life — with a hearty laugh.

At the age of 40, she was diagnosed with macular degeneration, meaning the vision in the centre of her left eye has deteriorated to near blindness.

"For instance, you have no face," she said while sitting in front of On the Go host Ted Blades.

"But I think that's kind of a metaphor for my life. I can't see what I'm looking at directly. I can only see the periphery of things.… Or maybe it's not a metaphor. But I haven't really worked that out yet."

On Thursday, Walsh was honoured with an award from the Canadian National Institute of the Blind in St. John's.

The CNIB Century of Change medal was presented for her work in promoting the organization.

Walsh, for her part, says she doesn't deserve the medal, but loves the CNIB so much she couldn't decline.

"Totally undeserved," she said. "I did do some work, quite selfishly, when I realized I had macular degeneration and that I was going to have to start depending on the CNIB. I thought, boy, I better put some sweat equity in here and, you know, help out as much as I can."

Walsh tried experimental surgery

She can remember going to the hospital when her vision went wavy one day.

At the time, Walsh was considered very young for the condition. Doctors didn't think it could be macular degeneration at first, she said.

I wasn't cavalier about it at all.- Mary Walsh

Then they figured it may have been acquired genetically, she said.

"[But] nobody in our family had it — if Dad really was my dad. But who knows?"

While she jokes about it now, Walsh said she was anything but breezy when she learned about her diagnosis.

"I wasn't cavalier about it at all. I wept and wept and wept and wept."

In 1998, she went to the United States for an experimental surgery that had seen poor results in Canada. She found a doctor with a 40 per cent success rate, and took a shot.

Four years later, she had the surgery repeated.

"As well as the degeneration, there's also the actual scar where he sewed up my macular," she said as Blades winced and said, "Ahh."

"It's really nice, I gotta say," she countered. "I really love it — getting hot needles in your eye."

Walsh was one of 20 recipients of the medal. The full list includes:

  • Cynthia Antle
  • Danny Barrett
  • Jason Blair
  • Don Connolly
  • Regina Drover (for the late Edwin Drover)
  • Bradley George
  • Trevor Giles
  • Dr. Sarah Hutchens
  • Jim Hynes
  • Jim Maher
  • Jim McDonald
  • Gordon Macnab
  • Marek Otfinowski
  • Anna Patten
  • Marilyn Pike (for the late Eugene Pike)
  • Philip Strong
  • Patricia Suvak
  • Margaret Thomson
  • Kim Thistle-Murphy
  • Mary Walsh

With files from On the Go