Danelle Umstead is used to turning heads as she flies down the alpine slopes. An accomplished skiier, Umstead has made three Paralympic teams and won three bronze medals, an incredible feat for anyone, let alone someone with severely limited vision.
Umstead has a genetic eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which affects the photoreceptor cells in the retina — the rods and cones — and has caused Umstead to lose her vision. Like so many people with severe eye disease, she hasn’t let this stop her.
Now, Umstead is turning heads for a different reason. Fulfilling a longstanding dream, she is competing on ABC’s fall season of “Dancing with the Stars,” partnering with Artem Chigvintsev. Umstead is the program’s first visually impaired contestant.
“I have no central vision whatsoever,” Umstead says according to an article on Team USA’s website, and also acknowledges that in her “peripheral vision, there’s big, black blind spots closing into my central. So I just have little pieces left between the two here and there.”
Patients with RP typically experience decreased vision in dim light and reduced peripheral vision, which may progress to involve their central vision as well. At the time of this writing, there is no cure for this disease. However, the future is bright for patients with inherited eye diseases like RP, thanks to the determined research and tireless efforts of many, many patients, scientists, and doctors, who have recently produced the first commercially-available treatment for an inherited eye disease, as I discuss here.
Here’s Umstead’s first performance on Dancing with the Stars, dancing the foxtrot: