Former England striker Michael Owen has opened up about the guilt he feels after his son James was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition, which has left him clinically blind.
Appearing on Tuesday’s Good Morning Britain with his son, the 44-year-old football star confessed he goes to bed every night and prays a cure will be found for Stargardt disease.
“I suppose as a parent, myself and my wife probably felt far worse than James, which sounds really bad,” 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.”
James, 17, was diagnosed with Stargardt disease at the age of eight. He has since been forced to give up his dream of becoming a professional footballer like his father due to his sight getting progressively worse throughout the years.
“But James was born that way, James doesn’t know any different,” added Michael. “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.”
Stargardt disease is a rare inherited condition that affects one in 8,000 to 10,000 people. The eye disease causes vision loss in children and young adults. Symptoms of the condition typically develop before the age of 20 and include a loss of detailed vision and colour perception, wavy vision, blind spots and blurriness.
Confessing that the family have been dealing with some time, Michael continued: “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.
He added: “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.”
Asked whether he felt guilty about the things he would say to James before the diagnosis, the doting dad replied: “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.”
He 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.”
Speaking about his dad’s support, the teenager – who is now training with England’s Partially Sighted Futsal team – 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.”