Deanna Middleton began wearing glasses when she was in third grade.
Since then she visited an optometrist annually to monitor her vision. In 2006, she had been experiencing constant redness and dryness of her eyes.
"Originally the optometrist was going to give me eye drops until they gave me what they call a puff test," Middleton said.
A "puff test" requires patients to sit in a chair and place their chin on a machine that blows a quick jet of air into the eye. Reaction to the puff allows doctors to record eye pressure.
Because Middleton's optometrist observed unusually high pressure in her eye he referred her to an ophthalmologist who diagnosed her with glaucoma.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation defines the eye disease as causing damage to the optic nerve, which if left untreated can lead to partial vision loss or blindness.
"It's the number one sight-stealer in America," Middleton said, "especially among African-Americans."
Middleton knew family members with glaucoma, but after her diagnosis had began to research the disease thoroughly. She discovered she is not the typical glaucoma patient.
"My situation is rare in the fact that I don't have diabetes," Middleton said.
While glaucoma strikes blacks more than any other ethnicity, most people diagnosed with glaucoma are 55 and older. Middleton is 38.
Middleton began to encourage her friends and family to be tested for glaucoma and visit an optometrist regularly. She also began volunteering as a test subject for scientific and medical studies on the disease.
"But I wanted to do more," Middleton said.
She became a member of Prevent Blindness Georgia, a state affiliate of Prevent Blindness America since 1965, and began advocating early detection and increasing research funding.
"Anyway that I can help, I tell them 'utilize me,'" Middleton said, "and it's hard being a teacher, but I tell them that anything I can do, I will."
Earlier this year, she and two other Georgia women traveled to Washington D.C. to speak with members of Congress about the swelling numbers of Americans with potentially blinding eye diseases.
According to Prevent Blindness Georgia, 2.2 million Americans age 40 and older - nearly one in 50 - have been diagnosed with glaucoma.
The organization recommends those aged 55 and older or with a family history of glaucoma should have a dilated eye exam once every two years. Those with diabetes or other vision problems such as nearsightedness should see an optometrist every year.
An estimated 80 million Americans are at risk for a potentially blinding eye disease and with an aging baby boomer population, the number of blind Americans is expected to double by 2025.
Middleton said she would like to write children's books about sight.
"One of my hopes is to be trained so I can do vision screenings for 4-year-olds," Middleton said.
She knows how important early detection is and said she feels blessed that her regular optometry visit saved her from a life of darkness.
As part of her vision advocacy she regularly contacts Georgia Representative Hank Johnson and his staff asking Congress to consider increasing research on diseases of the eyes.
Members of PBGA are especially urging Congress to increase funding of the Vision Screening and Education Program at the Centers for Disease Control from $2 to $4 million, as well as increase funding for research conducted by the National Eye Institute.
Even though Middleton had to take three unpaid days off of work to go the Capitol, she said it was an experience of a lifetime. In the conclusion of her brief speech to Congress she talked about her vision for the future.
"The drops I use currently are meant to be taken for the rest of my life and I am only 38 years old, but perhaps with the intensity of ongoing, extensive vision funding, researchers will develop or discover methods that will stop eye nerve damage all together.
"That is my continuous hope and prayer."
For more information about vision issues, visit www.pdga.org or call (404) 266-2020.