‘One stop resource’

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Suffering from the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, Davida Luehrs nonetheless is actively involved in the community, helping others with vision problems. Photo by Suzanne Pollak
Suffering from the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, Davida Luehrs nonetheless is actively involved in the community, helping others with vision problems. Photo by Suzanne Pollak

Davida Luehrs “is a one-stop resource” for anyone with vision problems, according to Mike Ryan, district governor of the Lions Club in northeastern Virginia.

Luehrs was diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa 28 years ago. Since that time, the Reston woman’s peripheral vision has deteriorated from the normal 180 degrees all the way down to just three degrees. “Things have to be literally right in front of me – between my two eyes,” she said. “If they ever change the big E on the eye chart, I’ll be in big trouble.”

But don’t bother feeling sorry for her, because she surely doesn’t. Instead, she spends every waking moment connecting those with vision problems to the proper resources – be it names of people to talk to, places to go, information on research or free vision screening for preschool children.

Helping others is what Luehrs does best. She recently received a 2014 Best of Reston individual community award from the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce as well as a commendation from the Virginia House of Delegates “for her tireless efforts on behalf of people with low vision.”

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“I have to admit I have skin in the game. I am losing my vision,” she said. “Losing your vision can be very isolating. You can easily be less connected, homebound,” Luehrs said.

“I like to make a difference. I like to contribute to my community,” said the wife and mother of three young adults ranging in age from 20 to 25. Her middle child, a teacher in Arlington, also has the degenerative disease.

“Anything the kids were involved in, I was part of, in a leadership role,” she said, quickly listing everything from marching band to Boy and Girl Scouts to room parent. “I am a joiner, and when I join I tend to be the one in charge.”

She also is active in her synagogue, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation. She is a past president of the sisterhood, a former board of trustee member and has been active with the caring committee for more than 10 years.

“She has been an amazing leader at the synagogue,” said Rabbi Michael Holtzman. “She is just a tenacious advocate for other people. She is a real wonderful Jew.”

Luehrs, who turns 56 later this month, lives near the synagogue. Her family moved to Reston in 1991 from Bethesda, with her future in mind. Their home is within one mile of the town center, her doctors, the library, grocery store and the schools her children attended. “I am always walking, round-trip,” she said, adding that she uses a white cane to help her navigate areas that are dark or have little contrast.

“My cane goes out the door with me. When it’s dark, I literally can’t see two feet in front of me,” she said. At first, she refused to be seen with her cane, “now not only don’t I care, but it’s become a connector” with others who have vision problems.

Luehrs started a local chapter of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which raises money for research. Each year, the group holds a charity walk. In the past nine years since she has been involved, her chapter of the FFB has raised a total of $1.1 million dollars.

“What pushes me and makes a big difference to me is I am seeing firsthand the tangible help the foundation provides,” she said, pointing especially to medical breakthroughs.

She also is involved with the American Council of the Blind and the Lions Club, where she currently is chair of a committee concerning sight. Vision screening is a big part of the Lions Club, she noted.

Ryan has nothing but praise for his fellow Lions Club leader. “She’s a remarkable lady. With her physical challenge of her eyesight, she gets along pretty well,” he said. “She is an involved person. If she says she is going to join an organization, she is going to be involved in the organization. She is going to attend every meeting.”

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