A Wimbledon woman has a new lease on life thanks to Gill the guide woman.

Mariza Jürgens, 50, said that sight loss was something that impacted her from quite a young age.

“I was living in Chile when I suddenly found that my eyes were becoming sensitive to bright light while driving," she said.

“I was in my twenties, and I decided that I needed to visit the ophthalmologist. My sister had recently been diagnosed with a retinal degenerative condition and was told it could be genetic. However, it wasn’t until someone from the John Hopkins Institute in the US visited Chile six months later, that I was diagnosed with the same sight loss.

"I had no inclination that I would also be affected”.

Wimbledon Times:

Mariza found out that she had cone dystrophy macular degeneration, a light-dependant sight loss condition which meant that the cones in Mariza’s eyes were dying. Although diagnosed in 1996, it wasn’t until 2007 that she started to experience loss of vision. She was officially diagnosed blind in 2011.

Originally from Bedford in South Africa, Mariza, her husband and two children moved to the UK in 2017. Due to her husband’s job as a diplomat for the South African High Commission, Mariza and her family have lived all over the world, including Italy, Belgium and Chile, and are now based in Wimbledon.

She decided to get in touch with Guide Dogs and was partnered with her My Guide volunteer, Gill, in 2012.

My Guide is a Guide Dogs service that trains volunteers to become sighted guides for people living with sight loss.

Mariza says that being partnered with Gill has really helped her confidence.

Wimbledon Times:

“I often get invited to events due to my husband’s work," she added

"Things like garden parties, private house viewings, even events at Buckingham Palace.

"I find them a bit inaccessible and I’m self-conscious that I’m going to be a burden. By bringing Gill along I’m able to relax a lot more. We go to art galleries and museums, I absolutely love visiting them."

Mariza is also taking part in Guide Dogs’ ‘Power of Description’ campaign which highlights the importance of the use language in society.

She says that the descriptions Gill gives her when visiting museums and art galleries are vitally important to her enjoyment.

“I love going to art galleries with Gill," Mariza said.

"She’s amazing at describing the paintings. It’s as if I’m staring right at them.

"By being a My Guide, it’s so important that Gill’s able to communicate and describe the environment around me. It helps me navigate and get around safely. Put simply, without words, I cannot see."