hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

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June 21, 2007

Bradford author pens his struggle with vision loss

In 1978, Michael Merrett sold his car, quit his job as a bank accountant and set off for Fort Knox, Ky. to join the military and pursue journalism and photography, but that dream was quickly derailed.

Merrett couldn’t pass the eye exam and was unable to enlist.

“I was in glasses at age 12, but it was only at that time that I realized something more serious was going on,” said Merrett, now 53 and living in Bradford.

Two years later, Merrett and four of his brothers met with a Boston doctor who had done extensive research about the symptoms they each displayed. The diagnosis was retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the retina that causes varying degrees of blindness. Some end up losing their vision completely.

Since then, Merrett’s life has taken some unexpected turns, but his diagnosis brought him full circle to his dream of becoming a writer.

In 2005, Merrett self-published his first novel, “Slipping into Darkness,” about his struggle with his disease. A year later, he published a fiction novel called “The F.O.G.,” about a man on a mission to change the face of the planet.

One of 13 children, Merrett was raised in Everett by his father, Bert, and mother, Betty. Four of his five brothers have been diagnosed with the eye disease, all four having to change their careers because of vision loss. Merrett’s youngest brother, Stephen, 42, has yet to show any symptoms.

Merrett’s mother and father had perfect vision, so such widespread vision loss within a family seemed highly unusual. But the disease is hereditary, and Merrett’s mother was the carrier who had unknowingly passed it on to her sons.

The disease causes gradual degeneration of rod cells and cone cells in the retina. Rod cells decipher peripheral and side vision, as well as interpret images in dark and dim environments. Cone cells allow the eye to perceive color and see fine visual detail in the center of vision.

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