Retinitis pigmentosa: two words that have shaped the course of Shawn Maloney’s life. Diagnosed with this degenerative eye condition at age 5, he knew early on that it was only a matter of time until he would become completely blind. “I started having trouble with my vision when I was about 7 years old,” the now 35-year old Cornwall, Ontario native explains. “My peripheral vision became problematic and it slowly but progressively impacted my ability to see well, especially at night,” he says.
Despite his condition, Shawn lived a very normal teenage life, playing baseball and even getting his driver’s license. “In my early twenties, I decided to take away my own driver’s license,” Shawn states. “My vision had gotten much worse, but on the bright side, I was never tapped to be the designated driver!” he jokes.
A positive mindset is what continues to fuel Shawn’s success. He never saw his condition as an obstacle and used it as motivation to make a difference in his life and those affected by retinitis pigmentosa. As a Masters student in the MUHC’s Ocular Pathology Laboratory, headed by the internationally renowned Dr. Miguel Burnier, Shawn studied his own eye condition and has shared his research with the medical community. He also completed his PhD and spent four months training at Harvard University in their retinal stem cell laboratory, which is conducting some of the most promising research in retinitis pigmentosa. “I am very grateful to Dr. Burnier for giving me an opportunity to join his lab,” Shawn states. “He has created such an amazing environment for students to thrive in and I am honoured to have been a part of it,” he says.
In his spare time, Shawn is a husband and father to three young children, and stays active through running. “My wife and I have participated in some half marathons together. It has certainly inspired some friendly competition between the two of us!” he says. Despite being declared legally blind since 2007, Shawn considers himself fortunate that he only has retinitis pigmentosa. “There are so many debilitating illnesses out there, so if this is the worst condition that I have in my life, then I consider myself lucky,” he states.