Michael Owen prays for a cure for son's Stargardt

Posted: Tuesday 23 January 2024
Michael Owen

Michael Owen has brought Stargardt into the spotlight again as he admits he 'prays every night' for a cure for his son. 

The former professional footballer's son James was diagnosed with the rare genetic condition when he was only 8 years old. 

The news was first made public in 2019, but has made headlines again recently as the father and son duo have embarked on a new documentary to raise awareness of the condition - Football Is For Everyone.  

The documentary follows the England Partially Sighted Futsal Team as they geared up for the 2023 IBSA World Games. It will be presented by the pair as they aim to understand more about James’ condition through the lens of the team.

Living with Stargardt

Talking to Good Morning Britain hosts Ed Balls and Susanna Reid, Michael admitted he still prays for a cure for his son every night.

He said: "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. 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 [and] 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.”

Stargardt disease is an inherited genetic condition caused by a tiny alteration in a single gene and is the most common form of juvenile macular dystrophy. Symptoms can include difficulty reading or seeing in dim light, blurriness and distorted vision. Children often first experience symptoms between the ages of six and 12, though some may not show any symptoms until adulthood.

The programme debuts on TNT Sports 1 on Tuesday, January 30 from 11pm. 

Finding a cure

Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, said: “We would like to thank Michael Owen for sharing his son’s diagnosis with Stargardt disease and we wish him, James and the rest of their family well. When a popular figure like Michael shares a personal story of macular disease like this, the awareness it helps to create is absolutely vital. It also highlights just how vitally important it is that more research into Stargardt disease and other macular dystrophies is funded as a matter of urgency.

“Alongside Retina UK, we are currently helping to fund research  focusing on Stargardt disease. But more investment in projects like these is urgently needed if we’re to be successful in ending macular disease sooner rather than later.”

The Macular Society has been supporting people with macular conditions for over 30 years. We offer information and support while we fund research to find a cure so that one day we can overcome macular disease. All our services are free; no one has to face macular disease alone.

If you have been diagnosed with macular disease call us on 0300 3030 111 to find out more about our free support services.

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Stargardt disease is a genetic condition caused by a tiny alteration in a single gene. It is the most common form of juvenile macular dystrophy.

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