RP International was established 40 years ago to find and fund the cure for Retinitis Pigmentosa and related degenerative eye diseases.
In 1971, the greatest adversary was not the disease itself but the acceptance by the medical community that retinal disease would always remain incurable.
Even text books used in the education and training of young Physicians and Research PhD's reinforced this perception that RP would always be incurable, that retinal tissue and brain tissue could not be transplanted. This became Helens primary first target, to defeat RP, you must believe that it CAN be cured.
Helen never forgot the day she was diagnosed by an ophthalmologist who said; "Helen, RP is incurable, with no hope... no cure, and no treatment in sight for millions losing their vision. You're going blind, go home, learn braille, there is nothing any doctor can do for you OR your children..."
Driven by these words and diagnosis of impending blindness for herself and two young boys, Helen began a remarkable 40 year battle against the darkness...
An Emmy Award winning broadcast on the battle Helen Harris had launched against blindness changed eye research forever! Produced by PBS and hosted by Angie Dickinson, the broadcast awoke new hope and excitement among every doctor and researcher that viewed the program.
With the help of a dedicated founding board of directors and hundreds of celebrities, Helen went to battle;
First, to change the mindset of the medical community world wide that the belief that retinal tissue could not be transplanted was incorrect.
That a broad based approach from the scientific community would have to include not just genetic research, but surgical intervention, implanting new photo receptors and their supporting adjacent layers. Pharmaceutical treatments, even cell modification using adult stem cells and bio-chip implants would all have to be considered and most importantly, that an entirely new collaboration between competing approaches must exist.
Her goal was to open the world of medical science to all possibilities and cast aside preconceived ideas of what was formerly an incurable disease.
- In 1984 RPI funded the first successful human retinal cell transplant at Lions LSU Eye Center with Dr. Gholam Peyman.
- RPI is responsible for the largest increase in the history of the N.E.I. in one year, $17,000,000, to advance and fund degenerative eye studies.
- To date, RPI and it’s committed supporters have raised or directly caused the donation of 350 million dollars to major medical facilities.
- Provided free services to 250,000 “national crisis line callers”
- Created the first Telethon for Eyesight, hosted by Bob Hope, reaching 150 million homes with a message of hope and a rally call to join the fight against blindness.
By creating and implementing broad reaching national events, such as the 40th Annual Vision Awards, TheatreVision, The Eyes of Christmas/NBC Special, The Extra Hour of Sight program, Forgotten Eyes Video with 150+ of Hollywood’s most famous and influential celebrities, the charity has brought the miracle of restoring vision from a distant hope, to the reality of clinical and experimental trials today.