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Michael Owen 'goes to bed praying every night' for cure for blindness that ended his son's football career dream
23 January 2024, 11:06
Michael Owen has told of his nightly prayers for a cure to be found for the genetic condition that caused his son to go blind.
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The England football legend said that wanted "to take all the pain away" from his son James, 17, who was diagnosed aged eight with a rare incurable condition called Stargardt disease.
Stargardt is a rare genetic condition that occurs when fatty material builds up on the macula - the small part of the retina needed for sharp, central vision. The disease currently has no cure.
The macula, which is the part of the eye that sees straight in front, is important for activities such as reading and writing
Owen said that James' condition "regresses over time".
He said: "I suppose as a parent, myself and my wife probably felt far worse than James, which sounds really bad.
"You want to take all the pain away from him, you feel sorry for him every time he goes to hospital and gets new drops that make his eyes sting and he's crying all day.
"As a parent, myself and my life probably felt much worse than James, you want to take all the pain away from him, but James was born that way, he doesn't know any different," he told Good Morning Britain.
"I think it was quite hard for us when we found out that this was an incurable disease at the moment," Owen added.
"We live in an age with stem cells that we go to bed every night praying something will be there to cure him, but at the moment, it's a condition that regresses over time."
James had shown signs of promise on the pitch but the condition cut any hope of going professional short by his Stargardt diagnosis.
Liverpool and England striker Owen said: "I was thinking it was his fault back in the day, of course I was, especially on the football field when I knew where he should have been standing and what he should of been doing, and he wasn't doing it.
"I'm not a pushy parent but I would stand on the side lines so I would do a little whistle so he would know to move."
James earlier revealed his experience with the condition alongside his dad.
“People do expect me to be going into football and I did used to really to enjoy it,” he told Mail Sport.
“But it was getting to a point where it was too difficult to know where the ball was.
“I lost the enjoyment out of it really because I wanted to be the best.”
His father also previously opened up about the struggle of being repeatedly asked about his son’s football potential.
“It's probably the worst question, not that I ever show it or say it to anybody," he said.
“You find yourself either having to make an excuse or say he's not interested and people look at you and say 'he's not interested in football?' Then you have to explain everything and you end up in a conversation you don't really want to have with anybody.”
But when James was a lot younger and his eyes were "slightly better" his ability was “very, very good”, his dad said.
He continued: “I said to my dad and my wife and everyone 'he's got a right chance here of being a footballer'. But then as soon as he got diagnosed, he just sort of gradually stopped. He coped with it well.”
Despite the initial challenge of having to wave goodbye to his football dream, James is now looking forward to the future.
He said: “I want to have my own business and provide for my future family years.
“I used to be a lot more emotional about it [the condition], I used to let it identify me more.
“When I was younger I kind of felt sorry for myself really. I thought 'why me? I can't drive, I can't do this.' But me being upset about it isn't going to change anything so I might as well crack on.”
While they are both now optimistic, Owen admitted that it hasn’t been the easiest journey as a parent.
He said: “You just want to take it all away from them, you want you to have the problem and not them.
“At first, you look at all the negatives. He won't be able to drive, he won't be able to do this and that. What jobs can he have? There's still things that upset you now. I want him to be able to do all the things that everybody else does. He pretty much does, just with a few little alterations.”
But seeing those “less fortunate” during his son’s many hospital visits helped put things “into perspective”, he said.
“I take the positives out of everything. I've got a lot to be proud of because he's grown up to be a brilliant lad.”
The pair are now trying to raise awareness for Stargardt’s and other eye conditions in their new documentary Football is for Everyone.