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Hanna’s solo backpacking journey opens up entire new world after her shock prognosis


Hanna Nijenhuis is a solo Dutch backpacker setting off round Australia on the two-month journey of her life.

5 years in the past, she, like another school pupil, went to the physician complaining of fatigue and imaginative and prescient issues.

After an preliminary misdiagnosis of stress, Hanna, then 20, was informed the signs have been a part of a uncommon genetic situation known as Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), a situation that may ultimately render her completely blind to some extent.

Inside three months, her eyesight quickly deteriorated.

Hanna discovered of the situation when her uncle was recognized however did not suppose it might occur to her.

Woman in diving suit holding hands with another diver surrounded by dark blue water with a large cliff next to it.
Hanna dives on the Nice Barrier Reef off Cairns.(Supplied by: Hanna Nijenhuis)

“My household thinks it solely impacts males, not ladies.

“Inside three months, I had reached the extent I’m now,” she mentioned.

Hanna mentioned she will be able to’t drive, cannot see issues intimately like individuals’s faces or learn indicators.

“Initially, I assumed my life was over,” she mentioned.

She was supplied an intensive course at an establishment known as Visio to adapt to her new actuality.

Bright red rock formations with a young woman with long hair dressed in white in the center of the image.
Hanna at Kata-Tjuta in Central Australia.(Supplied by: Hanna Nijenhuis)

After taking a fundamental course, Hanna realized that she wanted to be taught new expertise to adapt.

“It feels so much like highschool, each hour, a special course.

“An important issues for me are pc coaching and Braille,” she says.

Hanna now credit the course established by Visio het Look Eft, a rehabilitation middle primarily based within the Netherlands, as serving to her change her thoughts.

“Apart from all the sensible stuff, there’s additionally an enormous psychological issue,” she mentioned.

“A part of that’s interacting with different individuals there.

Hanna desires to vary stereotypes about individuals with disabilities who sit alone and haven’t got a satisfying life.

“The extra you place your self in conditions which might be outdoors of your consolation zone, the extra comfy you’ll really feel,” she says.

“The extra you develop your boundaries, the extra you will get executed, and the happier you may be.”

Hanna had stored sufficient visibility to see the panorama.

“I would not be capable of see them in as a lot element as a human with the bare eye,” she mentioned.

“If there are mountains, I can see the colours of the mountains, however I am unable to actually see the timber,” she mentioned.

Finding out a uncommon genetic situation

Isabel Lopez Sanchez, from the Eye Analysis Middle of Melbourne, Australia, mentioned the illness may be very uncommon in Australia, with solely 350 individuals recognized with it.

Smiling woman with dark shoulder length hair wearing a white coat is sitting in the laboratory
Isabel Lopez Sanchez research mitochondrial illnesses that have an effect on imaginative and prescient.(Supplied by: Australian Eye Analysis Middle)

The blinding mutation is current within the mitochondrial genome within the DNA handed on by the mom.

“What mitochondria do is that they produce the vitality that our organs must operate,” says Dr. Lopez Sanchez.

“In Australia, we find out about 100 households are affected by this situation.

Dr. Lopez Sanchez says that with LHON, an individual can abruptly lose their imaginative and prescient, however that is not the case for everybody.

“What normally occurs is [they lose their] the primary is central imaginative and prescient they usually protect some peripheral imaginative and prescient, however they turn into legally blind,” she mentioned.

Her analysis is making an attempt to find out why solely imaginative and prescient appears to be affected.

“There are cells within the eye known as retinal ganglion cells which might be significantly prone to adjustments in vitality provide or vitality manufacturing,” she mentioned.

The scarlet stone walls of a chasm flanked by a smiling young woman, wearing a brown and wide-brimmed cap.
Hanna visits the Standley Abyss in Central Australia.(Supplied by: Hanna Nijenhuis)

“And retinal ganglion cells particularly, are the connection between what we see within the atmosphere and the mind.”

It’s these retinal ganglion cells, positioned within the middle of the attention, that die and trigger blindness or lack of imaginative and prescient.

Dr. Lopez Sanchez notes that individuals’s psychological well being typically suffers after such a devastating prognosis.

“We all know many households with LHON in Australia, the place psychological well being issues are quite common,” she mentioned.

“It may be very painful at first; I am unable to think about what it could be wish to not be capable of acknowledge somebody’s face.”

“[But] A devastating prognosis just isn’t the tip of somebody’s life… I do know many recognized individuals who even have unbelievable careers. “

Maeve’s Legislation

Though analysis on LHON does not have any treatment or therapy.

“There are experimental therapies happening abroad, nothing is going on in Australia,” Dr Lopez Sanchez mentioned.

“And that highlights the necessity to put money into mitochondrial analysis.”

In October 2022, Australia handed the Maeve Legislation permitting IVF mitochondrial donation to assist stop ladies from passing on affected genes to their kids.

“It’s the results of advocacy by many households within the medical neighborhood, together with these with LHON in Australia, who’ve fought and labored with the federal government to move laws to permit this IVF method. executed,” mentioned Dr. Lopez Sanchez.

Mother and father’ pleasure

Hanna’s father, Han Nijenhuis, mentioned that regardless of a mum or dad’s regular worry of a kid touring to the opposite facet of the world on his personal, he was very happy with his daughter.

Woman in white shirt holding a wide-brimmed hat with clouds over red earth landscape
Hanna by the street close to Coober Pedy(Supplied by: Hanna Nijenhuis)

“She’s making an attempt to do the perfect in her life, seeing her incapacity as a threshold, however a threshold you can cross,” he mentioned.

He recalled the time proper after Hanna was recognized as a difficult time.

“So I am so glad our daughter acquired to take this journey,” he mentioned.

Hanna celebrates the fifth anniversary of her prognosis by posting a picture on Instagram of herself close to Coober Pedy.

The caption learn: “I used to be on the opposite facet of the world alone at present and I am having fun with the time of my life.”

“After all, it made my mother cry, however then she mentioned, ‘I could not have made you happier or prouder,'” Hanna mentioned.

Hanna hopes to encourage others to journey.

“On the whole, as people, we’re fairly resilient and you may deal with much more than you would possibly initially suppose,” she says.

Hanna might be touring alone in Australia for 2 months and can meet her companion in New Zealand to finish a further eight months of backpacking across the Southern Hemisphere.


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