Northern Virginia Chapter VisionWalk Feature Story

That’s what friends are for...

Donna and Jody
Donna Burke Tehaan and
Jody Kelly

Donna Burke Tehaan is a good friend. She enjoys sporting events, movies and the theater, dining out, a game of Mah Jongg with the girls, and even a little clothes shopping every now and then. She likes family and social occasions, and quickly warms up to new acquaintances.

If you happen to be a person with a retinal degenerative disease hoping for a cure, Donna is an especially good friend, even if you never get a chance to meet her. In her first year as a Northern Virginia/DC Metro VisionWalk co-chair, she single-handedly raised almost $50,000 to fund research for treatments and cures. With that kind of fundraising success, Donna could hold her own walk.

When it comes to raising money, Donna has a simple philosophy: Just keep looking ahead. She says, “It’s ok if someone doesn’t say ‘yes,’ because someone else, someone you least expect, will say ‘yes.’”

Donna and her younger brother, Glen, were the first and only members of the Burke family to be diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Donna was about 20 when she got the official news, but had noticed problems with her peripheral and night vision well before then. It wasn’t until her friend suggested that she have her vision checked out at Johns Hopkins University that the diagnosis was made.

Donna recalls, “My mother asked what the treatment was and the doctor told her there wasn’t any. She kept asking about what they could do, but no matter how much she tried, she didn’t get a positive answer.”

The doctor believed that Donna would continue to lose half of her visual field every five to seven years, and that she would be legally blind by the age of 35. “And the doctor ended up being right,” says Donna.

Though driving is totally out of the question, Donna can still read, and works from home using a computer.

However, there are challenges and disappointments. “For me, every time there was a memorable occasion, like for my children’s bar and bat mitzvahs, and my son’s college graduation, I wanted to be able to see everything and see it clearly. But I’ve missed a lot,” she says.

When Donna decided to get involved with the Foundation, it’s no surprise that she made new friends in the process. In fact, she has become close with Jody Kelly, her fellow VisionWalk co-chair for the 2009 walk, and they raised over $200,000. Donna says, “We both attended a chapter meeting and then went out for a bite to eat at a local diner. We became fast friends and travel companions. We both like to laugh and have a good time. It's been great working with Jody. She is very special.”

In addition to meeting Jody through the Foundation, Donna has found an environment that keeps her very positive. “With the new science discoveries and the promise they have brought us, FFB has become so inspiring, uplifting, and motivating,” says Donna. “And it is fun. I have met many other people who are in the same place I am, and they are thriving and successful. It’s a great place to be.”