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Patient Spotlight

Lauren Fields is legally blind. This fall she starts college on a basketball scholarship.

A love for the game, and the help of vision professionals, have this 18-year-old athlete taking the court with grace and confidence.

by September 4, 2017

(photo by Joe Howell)

In the fourth grade Lauren Fields was introduced to basketball.

She did not like it one bit, she admits. But all of that changed over time.

Fields, a 2017 graduate of Hillsboro High School, is starting Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, this fall on a basketball scholarship.

The 18-year-old learned to love the game and excel at it—even though she is legally blind.

“With my disability, I heard the word ‘no’ a lot. I learned to block that out and not let my visual impairment get in the way.”

Fields has a rare condition called optic atrophy, a disorder that affects the optic nerve, which carries impulses from the eye to the brain. She was diagnosed in 2004 by Sean Donahue, M.D., Ph.D., Sam and Darthea Coleman Professor of Pediatric Ophthalmology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Her visual acuity is about 20/200 instead of 20/20,” said Donahue. “It is pretty remarkable that she has been able to see the ball with her limited vision. The target or goal in this case is significantly diminished.

“When she was first diagnosed, we did a series of tests to rule out tumors or inflammation as the cause of her visual impairment. For the past 12 years, her vision has been stable and we expect it to continue to be. She has done a remarkable job adjusting and learning to live with it,” Donahue said.

Although corrective lenses and other treatments cannot improve her vision, visual aids have assisted her in the classroom. She received most of her direction from a program called PAVE (Providing Access to the Visual Environment), which provides free clinical and educational low-vision services to eligible school-age children in Tennessee.

Ellen Fields credits some her daughter’s basketball induction to PAVE.

“It was the folks at PAVE that recommended that we get Lauren involved in sports to help with balance issues and exposure,” said her mom. “We picked basketball because her older sister played, and I loved the game too.

“Once the sport grew on her, she began playing competitively. She told us she wanted to play on the collegiate level.

Lauren Fields completed her playing days at Hillsboro High and will attend Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, on a basketball scholarship. (photo by Joe Howell).

“We were not expecting her to excel like she has in basketball,” said her mom. “But it is just beautiful to watch her turn and shoot the ball from further away and make it. She has made it very clear that she does not want special treatment or plays built around her vision.

“She wants to be an integral part of the team. She really is a good dribbler and ball handler.”

Lauren got her start at a local YMCA in the fourth grade. It wasn’t until she was played at the more competitive level through the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) that her love for the game grew.

“I admit that I did not have a passion for basketball until I was in the 8th grade or so,” laughed Lauren. “Now, I can’t think of what I would do without it.

“With my disability, I heard the word ‘no’ a lot. I learned to block that out and not let my visual impairment get in the way.”

Lauren hopes to secure her driver’s license before heading to Queens University where she will major in business.