Blind ex-Service woman from Lancashire “proud and privileged” to take part in Remembrance Sunday march for Blind Veterans UK
9 October 2014 10:35
Blind ex-soldier from Preston who is now dedicated to helping people with vision impairments is set to take part in her tenth march to the Cenotaph in November, representing Blind Veterans UK.
53-year-old Maria Pikulski from Leyland will take part in the march in London with Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision impaired ex-Service men and women, a charity which she says "gave me my life back".
Maria joined the Army aged 18 and served with Women's Royal Army Corps, having wanted to join the Army growing up. Maria later joined the Territorial Army (TA) and served as a Reservist for 11 years.
Maria says: "My father served in the Polish Army during the War and transferred to the British Army's Royal Engineers after Poland was invaded. I'd wanted to join the Army because of his example and I absolutely loved my time in the Forces. It was hard, but there was a great comradeship - you felt like you were part of a big family."
Following her time in the Forces, Maria re-trained as a nurse, splitting her time between medical work for the NHS and Ministry of Defence.
Maria started to lose her sight in 2003, when she was working as a nurse. She says: "One of my patients noticed I was struggling to see properly and suggested I get my eyes checked. I was only in my forties at the time, so I just thought I would need glasses. I received a check-up and it turned out to be much worse. I spent the next few months having MRI scans while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with my eyes."
Maria was diagnosed with Leber's optic neuropathy, a genetic condition which slowly degrades the sufferer's vision. The condition is extremely rare in women and only about 3% of sufferers are female. Maria was registered as severely sight impaired in September 2003 - just seven months after first going to have her sight checked.
She says: "It was a very traumatic year and there was a lot of worry in those seven months. I thought my life was over and was on my lowest ebb - I didn't think I'd be able to work again and I was worrying about how I was going to pay the bills."
Maria applied for support from Blind Veterans UK the month after being registered severely sight impaired and has received free and comprehensive support from the charity to help her live independently with sight loss for over 10 years.
She says: "Blind Veterans UK is the best thing that's ever happened to me. They trained me to use a computerwithout being able to see the screen and it's because of the charity that I'm still able to work. Blind Veterans UK gave me my life back."
Maria now works as an Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO), helping those with vision impairments to access the support they need.
On Sunday 9 November, Maria will be joining other vision impaired ex-Service men and women supported by Blind Veterans UK to march to the Cenotaph in London for Remembrance Day. This will be the tenth time Maria has completed the march.
Maria says: "I feel so proud and privileged to be marching with Blind Veterans UK on Remembrance Day. I'll be thinking of all of the people I've served with, as well as my father. The atmosphere at the Cenotaph is always very emotional - it brings shivers down my arms even thinking about it. The crowds watching at Remembrance Day are the ones who make the atmosphere and over the years they have just got bigger and bigger and the support is always incredible."
Our No One Alone campaign aims to reach out to more veterans like Maria. More than 68,000 other people could be eligible for our free help and support without realising it. If you know someone who served in the Armed Forces or National Service who now suffers with sight loss from any reason visit www.noonealone.org.uk or call 0800 389 7979.