Actress Debbie Allen stresses importance of eye health as part of Gr8 Eye Movement campaign


Debbie Allen, an award-winning actress, dancer, choreographer, singer-songwriter, director and producer is teaming up with Prevent Blindness and Regeneron for the Gr8 Eye Movement, an awareness campaign that aims to educate and encourage those who are at risk of certain retinal diseases to prioritize their eye health.

Award-winning actress, dancer and director Debbie Allen talks about partnering with Prevent Blindness to help gain awareness on eye health.

Video Transcript

Editor's note - Transcript edited for clarity

Ophthalmology Times Managing Editor David Hutton spoke with actress-dancer-director Debbie Allen about the Gr8 Eye Movement campaign with Prevent Blindness and Regeneron. Allen is an actress, dancer, choreographer, singer-songwriter, director and producer known for her roles in “Fame,” “A Different World” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” She has won five Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award. She also is a 2020 Kennedy Center honoree.

David Hutton: I am David Hutton of Ophthalmology Times. I am joined today by Award-winning actress, dancer and director Debbie Allen, who joins Prevent Blindness and Regeneron to launch the Gr8 Eye Movement, an awareness campaign that aims to educate and encourage those who are at risk of - or affected by - certain retinal diseases, and their loved ones, to prioritize their eye health. Tell us what motivated you to get involved with the great eye movement campaign with prevent blindness and Regeneron?

Debbie Allen: Yeah, well, thank you for that question. I am really committed to this campaign. And I love the concept of it and the good that it's going to do and the community that is going to serve when I think about the 60 Plus group, and 95% of them don't even know that they are at risk for retinal diseases, and they're not paying attention. This is a motivator for me. I'm one of those people. This campaign is going to educate them. Most of them never even heard of wet age-related macular degeneration. A lot of them could be diabetics and not even know that diabetic retinopathy is a real issue. So, I feel compelled because in my own personal life, diabetes has certainly been a big part of my DNA. I've been on the lookout for diabetes my whole life. And I was diagnosed as being pre diabetic several years ago. But nobody was talking to me about my eyesight or loss of vision, they were talking about all these other things that could happen. And I know how important eyesight is to me personally to do what I do. As a director, choreographer and leader of a school, my vision certainly starts with my mental capacity, but it is my eyesight that guides people, and helps me tell them what it needs to be or how it needs to change and what we need to focus on or finding new students being able to see I see things that other people don't see. And I see that with my eyes. So my vision is very important to me. And I, I want to help people prioritize their eye health,

My mother just turned 100 years old, and one of the biggest steps we take with her is regular visits to the eye doctor, because we're on the lookout for with age-related macular degeneration. I didn't really know so much about that. And now I know and then the website is going to help so many people learn about the disease, what they can do, what to look for. This is a wonderful campaign, and the two components beyond myself, you know, Prevent Blindness and Regeneron together. That is an incredible team that I was really happy to join.

David Hutton: How have your personal experiences driven your passion for this campaign?

Debbie Allen: Well, my personal experience again, diabetes has ravaged my whole family, my grandfather, my father, my aunts, my uncles, I have two cousins right now. One who is clinically blind, another who is struggling to save his vision. He's a diabetic. And I know the risks that are involved. And I know that people take too long to pay attention. And this is something that could be avoided, you know, if you could prevent going blind, would you not do what the steps are, take the steps that you need to take. So hopefully this campaign is going to motivate people to be proactive, you know, the messaging is in the title, great, you know, spelled with G R and the number 8, which turned on its side looks like two eyes looking at you. And we're saying an 8th of every month, let's just say it, just take that one day, the 8th of every month, put it on your calendar, stop and check, has it been some change to your vision? Have you downloaded that Amsler grid and put it on your refrigerator and tested yourself? So you can measure yourself before? You know you raise your hand and run to the doctor, which is what you should do?

David Hutton: And whether it's your star power or something else, when it comes to educating people? How can this campaign provide a boost to those efforts, especially for those individuals most at risk?

Debbie Allen: Well, I think, because I'm speaking from a place that is personal to me that people will pay attention to it. And already we've had millions of viewers on the national shows that we've done. And we'll have more through the social media campaigns we're going to do. And if people just hear the message, I think it will motivate them. Because today alone, just from the Today Show, I know I've had so many people text me that I know, who have had personal up close experience with age-related macular degeneration. They send me pictures of their, their elders who are older, or just talking about why this is important, and thanking me for taking on something that was so relevant to millions of people who need to be, you know, pull their coat a little bit, get their attention. So I think I think so far, we're really doing a really good job, but we have to stay at it. So this is just Day 1, and we still have a way to go. September is healthy aging month. So we got a whole month to really hammered in but we're going to be at this for a while.

David Hutton: What would you want ophthalmologists, especially retina specialists to know about this campaign and the role they can play?

Debbie Allen: I think that they can talk to their patients and their family members spread the word in there, you know, whatever the advocacy is, however they contact the patients I know, I get little letters of information from various doctors about this event or a little Hey, it's time to get your teeth cleaned. Hey, where are you with your eyesight, send out messages, you know, collaborate with us. This is to help get them to come to you. So you can really tell them what's going on in the back of their eye, retinal diseases and that like a hurricane where you know, is coming. You look up and it's there. But if you don't look at all you will know.

David Hutton: And lastly, from your perspective, how would you gauge success of this campaign?

Debbie Allen: Well, as I was just saying, I think the success is going to be in the numbers and the people that are responding just on Day 1. And we'll be able to get feedback on our website, and we'll collect that data. But we'll be doing a lot of hammering, we're going to spend time and I think there's a lot of grassroots organizations that are part of this campaign, Prevent Blindness, has grassroots organizations all over the country locally. And they will be pushing so hard, because they've been at it since 1908 and they take it very seriously. They have already called to let us know how excited they are about this campaign and how worthy it is and how grateful they are that we're engaging people to take action.

David Hutton: Are there any other points maybe that we missed? That I didn't bring up yet that you would like to note?

Debbie Allen: I don't know. We have had a really good conversation about it and you already knows so much about prevent blindness and Regeneron, and now you know a little bit about me.

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