Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Orchestra violinist whose career was ended by near-blindness

By Victoria O'Hara

A musical star from the Ulster Orchestra has told of her “devastation” at being forced to end her career at the age of 42 after almost going blind from a serious eye condition.

Lucy Drennan from Ballyclare, enjoyed 13 years as the Associate Leader of the Ulster Orchestra when she contracted myopic maculopathy almost “overnight”.

The career-ending genetic condition attacked the retina in her right eye leaving her with just peripheral vision — and unable to read music.

Specialists informed the talented violinist — who also suffers from a lazy eye — “there was nothing they could do”.

After being told the devastating news last June she spent the last year recuperating in the hope that she might be able to return to her job.

But the mother of two — who had become a familiar face to audiences of the Ulster Orchestra — said she made the heartbreaking decision to leave her job last week.

“I think I accepted pretty much immediately that my career at the orchestra was over,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“I know that they held out hope over the last year that I might be able to come back. And they were so supportive. But the condition makes it almost impossible for me to read music.

“I still love music but I had to make the decision — it was one that was very, very hard to make.”

Mrs Drennan — who had dedicated her life to the violin — said she had found it “very difficult” to pick up the instrument until just a few months ago.

“At the beginning I didn’t want it to be part of my life. It seemed such an impossibility. It seemed a pointless exercise getting the violin out — I couldn’t see enough.”

She first realised her eyesight was affected after playing a concert in Holywood, Co Down.

“I’d gone to do a quartet gig and I couldn’t seem to see very well,” she said.

“The next day I got the violin out to practise and thought: ‘I can’t see any of the notes on the music.’”

Her husband Jonathan (35) — a professional musician — took her to the optician who told her to go to the Royal Victoria Hospital Eye Clinic “immediately”.

“I’d only been two months previously and everything was fine.

“But the picture of the back of my eye looked completely different. I don’t think they wanted to worry me so just told me to go to the RVH.

“I saw the specialist and immediately it was: ‘You’ve got this thing called myopic maculopathy.’”

Mrs Drennan said it came like “bolt out of the blue” when she was told there was no cure for it.

“I didn’t know what that meant. At the time there were three or four black clouds in that eye and I couldn’t really see.

“What I was told was it ‘wouldn’t get better, but it might not get worse’. I felt complete panic and devastation. This was my career —I definitely needed my eyes.

“I just thought: ‘Oh God, I’m supposed to be leading the orchestra. What am I going to do?’”

She then spoke to the orchestra manager who advised her take some time off.

But, within two weeks, she woke up and her eyesight had deteriorated rapidly.

“I woke up and told my husband, ‘I can’t see at all, it’s completely worse’.”

“I was told I’d lost my retina. It was completely ripped. The three or four holes had joined up. It is, I suppose, like having a black sticker over your eye. I’ve still got my peripheral vision.”

Mrs Drennan, however, said the condition of her left eye had improved.

Mrs Drennan said she had received “great support” from her family including her two children Molly (7) and Christian (6).

“They have been fantastic. You have to stay positive. And I still hope to teach music with my husband and perform with him. Music will still be a big part of my life.”

Belfast Telegraph

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