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Michael Owen raises awareness of Stargardt disease

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Michael Owen raises awareness of Stargardt disease

Former England striker Michael Owen and his teenage son James Owen appeared on Good Morning Britain today to raise awareness of Stargardt disease…

James Owen was diagnosed with Stargardt at the age of eight which has caused him to become clinically blind. Michael admitted he and his wife pray every day for a cure.

On discovering James had the rare and incurable condition 10 years ago, Michael told hosts Susanna Reid and Ed Balls, “I suppose as a parent, myself and my wife probably felt far worse than James, which sounds really bad. You want to take all the pain away from him, you feel sorry for him every time he goes to hospital and gets new drops that make his eyes sting and he’s crying all day.” 

Michael added, “But James was born that way, James doesn’t know any different. I think it was quite hard for us when we found out that this was an incurable disease at the moment. We live in an age with stem cells that we go to bed every night praying something will be there to cure him, but at the moment, it’s a condition that regresses over time. That’s obviously horrible, but I’ve never sung it off the rooftops. We get on in life. 

“James is 18 in a couple of weeks. We have a fantastic life together. it brings us closer, I have to drive him everywhere and I’m absolutely delighted about that. We take the positives out of it. Of course you bring it to light in the public domain and everyone’s like, ‘Oh my word’, but it’s water off a duck’s back for us. It’s news to the world but we’ve been living with it a long time.”

Ed asked Michael if he felt guilty about the things he would say to James before the diagnosis and Michael said, “Absolutely. I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t looking at the camera straight. I’d get people come up to me and say, ‘Just a little bit of advice for your son, when he shakes your hand, tell him to look in someone’s eye.’ You always think to yourself, ‘Shall I tell him?’ No, I’ll just leave it. I can’t be bothered having the conversation and that happens to this day.”

Ed then said, ‘And you were thinking it was his fault?’ and Michael admitted, “I was back in the day, especially on the football field where I knew where he should have been standing and what he should have been doing and he was doing it. I am not a pushy parent. I’m not one of those dads that stand at the line and shout at him, so I would just sort of make these whistling noises and he knew something was wrong when I did that and almost go into a panic thinking, ‘I’m in the wrong position here because my dad’s just made a little whistle noise’. But that was then and this is now.”

Susanna asked James how his sight affected his dreams of being a footballer and James said, “Everyone dreams of being a footballer when they’re younger, so it was quite hard, especially with it being so close to home. It’s something you have to get over. It was hard at the time and I did struggle with it for a long time.”

On whether his dad put him under pressure, James said, “No, not at all. I think everyone wanted to be a footballer when they were younger, especially when you’re not bad at it. But  he would never pressure me into it. He was definitely inspirational. He’s very understanding.”

He added, “He is a great dad, he definitely helped me through a lot of the hard times and understanding why I am this way. It’s been a massive help and it’s made me into the person I am today. I am a lot happier now. It doesn’t really affect me now.”

Good Morning Britain weekdays from 6am on ITV1 & ITVX

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