Seeing a whirlpool
A 16-year-old has written a book on age-related macular degeneration so children and adults can better understand the condition.
BY: Anushkaa Pangam
Most children would want to write about something not as complex as age-related macular degeneration or AMD for their first book, but not 16-year-old Denise Au Eong, who decided to tackle it in her book, “When Grandma Sees a Whirlpool”. She also happens to be the daughter of Prof Au Eong Kah Guan, an ophthalmologist at Singapore International Eye Cataract Retina Centre at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.
AMD is a chronic, irreversible condition and a major cause of blindness in those over the age of 50. The condition can make it difficult to read or recognise faces, although peripheral vision or the vision outside the central area of your gaze remains to allow you to continue with other daily activities, though driving and reading will be affected. There are no current figures of how many Singaporeans have AMD but a community study in 1997 showed that one in four people aged 60 and above have suffered from the condition.
Denise’s 36-page book, which is aimed at children as well as adults, brings this condition to light by telling the story of a little boy who realises his grandmother has this eye problem. Through the process, he and his family learn more about the condition and how it can be prevented.
Ageless Online speaks to Denise, who is currently doing her A levels in the UK:
How did you come up with the idea of writing about AMD and why this topic? Did your father play a part in influencing you in any way?
My father started the AMD Awareness Week in Singapore in 2005. I became aware of AMD because of his work with AMD patients and his involvement in the annual AMD Awareness Week. Although the condition affects those usually 50 years and older, there are risk factors associated with this condition that may be modified.
By reducing these modifiable risk factors such as smoking and obesity, the chance of developing the sight-threatening condition in later age may be reduced. For this reason, when my father invited me to do something for AMD Awareness Week in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in May this year, I chose to write a book to highlight this condition.
As I particularly enjoy interacting with children, I decided to write a storybook on AMD for children, while he contributed a more scientific portion at the back of the book for adults. It states the low levels of awareness in developed countries where AMD is the most common cause for blindness and talks about understanding the “risk factors” of AMD and how one can decrease the chance of developing AMD through a healthy, active lifestyle.
Why is this important to children? What was your aim for the book?
I think it is important that both children and adults are aware of AMD because it is the most common cause of blindness in developed countries. Worldwide, it is the third most common cause of blindness after cataract and glaucoma. Some children, in fact, may be living with relatives who have this condition.
Once children understand this condition better, they can appreciate the impact the condition has on their elderly relatives, and provide support and encouragement to them. In addition, the children themselves, especially if they have relatives with the condition, are also at risk of developing the condition later in life.
Knowing the risk factors for AMD means they can make choices such as abstaining from smoking, eating lots of green leafy vegetables and fruits, exercising regularly and maintaining an ideal body weight to reduce their chance of developing AMD. In short, this book aims to inform both children and adults about AMD, its treatment options and ways to potentially prevent it.
What have the responses been to your book? How many books have you sold so far?
The response to the book has been overwhelming! In fact, I was invited as the guest-of-honour for the Macular Degeneration Society’s Annual General Meeting this year to share my experience about writing the book to its members. The Macular Degeneration Society is a local patient support group for those with macular degeneration and their relatives.
Many people have indicated that they found the book interesting and informative. Thanks to a generous donation from the Lee Foundation, I was able to donate more than 2,000 books to all primary schools, the libraries and the Macular Degeneration Society. In addition, more than 2,000 books have been sold to pharmaceutical companies and to the public.
Will proceeds from the book go to AMD research?
Two hundred books have been donated to the Macular Degeneration Society, which will sell them to raise funds for the society’s activities. During the launch of AMD Awareness Week this year, I helped the society sell some of its books. As this is largely a not-for-profit project, proceeds from the book help to cover the cost of producing and distributing the book.
What are three lessons you learned from writing the book?
I would say the three lessons I have learned are:
1) Do not underestimate the amount of effort and time required to carry out an apparently simple project such as publishing a hard copy book. This, however, should not discourage anyone who is interested to embark on a project to give it a try. It took three months just for writing and editing alone!
2) As in many other things in life, teamwork is an important key to success. Coordination and communication within a team is crucial. It wouldn’t have been possible for me to publish the book without the help of both, the editors and the illustrator.
3) While the initial work may be hard, the joy and satisfaction of seeing one’s hard work come to fruition makes it all worthwhile.
If you could get three messages out to people about AMD, what would they be?
1. Everyone is at risk of developing AMD when they grow old. The older one is, the higher the chance of getting AMD.
2. The chance of developing AMD can be reduced by living healthily. Know your risks and save your sight!
3. Do not take your eyes for granted. Have your eyes checked regularly by an eyecare professional.
Are you planning on writing another book dealing with another health topic affecting seniors?
Yes, I will be writing another book on a condition called cataract that also affects seniors. It is considered the most common cause of blindness in the world. The book should be ready next year. I also have future plans to write a book on myopia. I think I will be sticking to eye issues for now but I think it would be fun to branch out into other areas of health!
** Denise’s book, “When Grandma Sees a Whirlpool”, is being sold at major bookstores for S$12.84 with GST.