His Mother's Son

When it comes to describing Eric Fulton, “gregarious” is a more-than-appropriate adjective for the husband and father of two who, fittingly, is also communications manager at the Bethesda-based Clark Construction Group. “It comes naturally to me,” he says of his ability to mix it up with people. “The cause makes it easier. But, otherwise, I’m pretty outgoing; I like to talk to people. It’s what I do.”

eric & fran_fulton
Eric with his mother, Fran

The “cause” to which Eric refers is the Foundation Fighting Blindness, in particular its VisionWalk 5K fundraising event, which he’s been promoting and participating in for the past three years. Eric got involved after his wife, Kate, urged him to raise awareness about the retinal disease he was diagnosed with 20 years ago. Called retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, it’s a progressive, vision-robbing disease that, early on, causes night-blindness and deterioration of peripheral vision.

Eric can still see well enough to not have to use a cane during the day or rely on any special equipment, other than a large computer monitor, at work. But he did have to give up driving a few years ago. Which means that getting the kids – Rebecca, 4, and Isaac, 20 months – to day care involves using public transportation. And Eric isn’t the only one in the family who’s affected: His mother, his brother, a cousin and an uncle also have RP.

Fran Fulton, in fact, is now completely blind. “I don’t like that my mother has never seen her grandchildren’s faces. That pains me as much as it pains her,” Eric says. “And she only has probably the vaguest sense of what my wife looks like. Now, she could probably look at me and say my hair was cut wrong and she doesn’t like the shirt I’m wearing. But knowing that she’s never seen her grandchildren’s faces, and knowing that, one day, I might not see my own grandchildren’s faces – that’s what really gets me.”

That’s also where the Foundation comes in – as a source of funding for cutting-edge research focused on treatments and cures for retinal diseases; as a facilitator of community events, such as VisionWalk; and as a source of information. “The Foundation’s mission is something I fully support and wanted to align myself with,” says Eric.

But as focused as he is on a cure, Eric doesn’t want to throw a pity party. He grew up, in a Philadelphia suburb, accustomed to a mother losing her vision and functioning just fine, via mobility training and assistive technology. She continues to do so, as a resident of center city Philly, completely on her own; Eric’s father died of a heart attack 14 years ago. “As I get older and my vision worsens, I really appreciate my mother more and more,” Eric says. “I mean, she is a role model for independence with vision loss – to the point where my wife even says, ‘I need to not compare you with your mother in terms of things you do, because your mother is a superstar.’”

Eric reading to his children
Eric with his kids, Rebecca and Isaac

Eric was diagnosed at 13 and pretty much lived his teenage and college years, at the University of Maryland, the way anyone would, with the exception of needing help getting around at night. He and Kate met in college, then dated afterwards, and got married in 2006. As for having the kids – who, at this point, have not been diagnosed with RP – the decision was easy. “I think that seeing how my mother’s lived her life and how I’m able to live my life is certainly the reason I didn’t have any hesitation,” Eric explains.

Still, he’s intent on helping create a world in which retinal diseases are eradicated. Over the past three years, his VisionWalk team, Walking Into Walls, has raised about $15,000 for the Foundation. He is an active member of the Montgomery County VisionWalk leadership committee, serving as Event Chair last year and Social Medial and Marketing Chair this year. “I’m really grateful that the Foundation is out there spearheading all of this research,” he says. “And I like to think that, one day, the money I help raise will be what puts scientists over the edge in finding a cure.”