Stated Dr. Lewin, "There are all kinds of vision problems; some like refraction, we have good therapies for. Others, like glaucoma, we have acceptable treatments for. But, retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration are some of the toughest problems facing medical science today. RP strikes young, and it robs years of vision from its patients, often gifted people." He added, "The race for the cure is finally on," shich was later echoedby President and Founder Helen Harris, as she introduced last year's Scientific Award honoree, Dr. Alan Chow. "We were not in a race thirty years ago. Nobody even knew who we were, or what we wanted. Today, they know. Today, we know that right in this room, there is a cure for RP. You have to hear what Dr. Chow says now, in comparison to what he said one year ago."
As Dr. Chow took the stage he reported on the progress of the "Artificial Silicon Retina" computer chip implant he developed with his brother, engineer Vincent Chow. "We're very excited to announce that last year we had implanted six patients with the chip, and now this year, we have implanted ten patients, and with all ten patients, they have had anywhere from moderate to very substantial improvement." This is encouraging news was met with resounding applause from the audience. The implants have successfully restored light and motiona perception to RP patients; the first steps toward reversing blindness previously thought to be incurable.
The Agrama Harmony Gold and Light Award, named for longtime supporter Frank Agrama in honor of his ongoing support of the school for the blind in San Fernando Valley, was given to martial arts expert Simon Rhee, who choreographs elaborate fight sequences for films and operates a Tae Kwan Do training center in Woodland Hills. The award was specially designated "Touch One Life", because of Simon's ability to reach out and make a difference in someone's life, particularly one young man, legally blind from RP, who came to his center for training. "Simon is much more than simply a friend and incredible teacher," he stated. "He taught me to combat fear with faith, how to convert anger and rage into peace and calm, to turn despair into hope...he helped me find my way home."
The presentation of the Legend of Vision Award provided another poignant moment, as Anthony Peck accepted on behalf of his late father. "Greg held in high esteem those who sought to help others, and so my family and I want to extend our congratulations and best wishes to Helen Harris and her dedicated associates. We support their continued '20/20' vision of the spirit on behalf of the Peck family." Mrs. Veronique Peck was also in attendance, both making their first public appearance since Mr. Peck's recent passing. She donated a copy of the film "To Kill a Mockingbird," which he had autographed, to the evening's lively auction, contributing toward the impressive intake of more than $50,000.00.
The spirit of the Fourth of July was remembered with the Vision of the American Spirit Award, given in honor of the Space Shuttle Colombia astronauts. Interview footage of Commander Rick Husbank was shown, wherein he described the wonder of the experience from a previous flight, and happier, candid moments from aboard the flight were highlighted. Each crew member's name has been enshrined in the "Wall of Life" plaque at the RP center, encouraging the spirit of freedom and how precious it is, whether dealing with a walk through a life filled with darkness, or speeding into the world's magnificent atmosphere.
The evening's audience was treated to several musical performances, most notably from Lester Sill Humanitarian Award Honoree for lifetime achievement, Burt Bacharach, who accepted his award at the piano with a breathtaking rendition of his classic hit "Alfie." Honoree Gary LeMel, who received the Lester Sill honor as Music Executive of Vision, also performed, joining up-and-coming young star Kayla and a large children's choir with Helen Harris' "My Sight Goes On," a moving song written as an anthem to TheatreVision description for the blind. Leslie Mills, whose album "Different for Girl's" will be released next month on Atlantic Records, rounded out the evening's entertainment with her song "Far From All the Tears."
The Vision Awards was hosted by veteran Daily Variety columnist Army Archerd, and film and television star Joseph Campanella. Presenters included Diahann Carroll, Dave Koz, and Lynda Obst. RPI mourns the loss of Buddy Hackett, who was scheduled to present the award to his friend Gary LeMel, but had to cancel due to his illness.
"With our new goal that blindness is truly reversible," says Harris, "we hope to move forward by emailing corporations to ask their employees to give donations, small or large each month. Imagine a million people giveng only five dollars each," she continues, "five million would be raised and the clinical trials would accelerate, as TheatreVision's described movies expand into theatres and homes all over the country."
For further in formation on RP International and its efforts to find a cure or treatment,
or to volunteer and to make donations, please call RP International, 1-800-FIGHT RP, or write to:
PO Box 900
Or, refer to our website, www.rpinternational.org.