Pat Caulfield was an award-winning kitchen and bath designer for high-end homes in the Baltimore area. She had twenty years of success and loved her job creating beautiful spaces. Then, she had to walk away from it all.
“After my glaucoma diagnosis, I went into immediate panic mode,” Pat recalls.
For a while, at least, Pat could still work, and still continue to paint, a hobby she’d always loved. She went five years with no vision loss, but then, without warning, she lost half the vision in her left eye. And when she lost central vision in her other eye, work became impossible. “I couldn’t use a computer anymore. I couldn’t drive. I really went through a period of mourning, a period of grief,” she says.
That’s when Pat knew she needed more than just medical help. She turned to Glaucoma Research Foundation and her lifelong passion for art to pull her through.
“GRF does such a great job disseminating information we all need,” Pat says, “like how to cope with vision loss. As people with glaucoma, we need to have hope, but we also need to know how to advocate for our own healthcare. We need to know what questions to ask. GRF helps us do that.”
Over the years, Pat has found GRF’s annual Patient Summits to be particularly educational. “I was glued to my screen for hours this year,” she says of the virtual summit she attended in June 2021. “I learned so much about patient care and self-care, stuff nobody else talks about.”
As she learned to cope with her new condition, Pat understood she couldn’t return to work, but she discovered she could still paint. “Even though I lost my vision, that didn’t mean my creativity stopped,” she says. “I just had to learn to do things differently.”
In the ten years since her diagnosis, Pat has had to re-learn to paint with acrylics, in a more abstract style than she did before. Now, she’s painting full-time, entering juried shows, and selling her work. Recently, a local Baltimore cancer center bought one of Pat’s pieces for its permanent collection. “Art is not only helping me, but it’s helping other people to heal, too,” she says. “So, I know I have to keep going.”
Thanks to Pat’s passion and inspiration, GRF will be hosting its first art show and auction for visually impaired artists in February 2022, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit glaucoma research. “I’m 64, so I probably won’t reap the benefits of today’s research, but there are children born with glaucoma every day. If I can plant the seeds for the next generation, then that’s a good thing to work toward.”
In the last five years, Pat has had six surgeries that have stabilized her vision loss. She considers herself very fortunate that those procedures and treatments exist. “And this is why we need to move forward to continue with awareness and funding,” she says.
“I never would’ve gone full-on into an art career if I did not have glaucoma,” Pat says. “I would probably still be designing kitchens. It’s interesting the twist interns your life can take. I truly loved being a designer, but had to shift gears, and in the process, discovered who I really am.”
Posted on November 18, 2021