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Release: June 12, 2000

Former UI ophthalmic illustrator's book depicts experience with macular degeneration

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which causes a blank spot in the center of one's vision, is the leading cause of blindness in people over age 50 in the western world. Lee Allen, a former ophthalmic illustrator and an associate in the University of Iowa department of ophthalmology for more than 60 years, has put his drawing skills and first-hand experience with AMD to use to help people better understand the disease.

The result is his illustrated book, "The Hole in My Vision: An Artist's View of His Own Macular Degeneration," commissioned by the UI department of ophthalmology and visual sciences and the UI Center for Macular Degeneration to celebrate the department's 75th anniversary. The book was published in May by Penfield Press and is designed to aid patients, their families, ophthalmologists and other eye care professionals.

Book proceeds will provide support to the UI Center for Macular Degeneration, which is dedicated to identifying a cure for age-related macular degeneration by altering its onset and reducing the risk of blindness. The disease results in atrophy, or degeneration, of the macula, where the best central vision is located. In 10 percent of people, new blood vessels may grow in the macula, leading to rapid central vision loss.

Early in his career, Allen worked with Grant Wood on several projects, including large murals in public buildings in Iowa. In 1937, he became an ophthalmic illustrator for the UI, where he pioneered many artistic and photographic techniques.

At age 78, Allen realized he could see the AMD-caused defects in his vision. For a decade, he studied these defects and carefully drew pictures of what he saw, showing the way they changed with time and with laser surgery.

The book includes these drawings as well as information about age-related macular degeneration and comments from Allen's physician and colleagues, including H. Stanley Thompson, M.D., UI emeritus professor of ophthalmology, and James C. Folk, M.D., UI professor of ophthalmology. Thomas A.Weingeist, Ph.D., M.D., UI professor and head of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and executive director of the Center for Macular Degeneration, wrote the book preface.

Weingeist commented in the preface, "What makes this effort truly unique is that Lee brought to the task a lifetime of related skills -- skills in drawing, color analysis, teaching, anatomical knowledge -- all supported by a driving need to understand what he was seeing."

The 120-page book includes many full-color pictures, and the type size meets publication specifications set by the Iowa Commission for the Blind. Individuals with reduced vision should be able to easily read the book.

For more information about "The Hole in My Vision," visit the UI web page:

The book ($49.94 paperback, $100 limited edition hardback) will be available in selected outlets, or to order copies, contact Penfield Press in Iowa City at (319) 337-9998, toll free at (800) 728-9998 or by e-mail at

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