Michael Kalberer doesn’t let his condition keep him down.
The lifelong Mineola resident uses his battle with cerebral palsy and retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative disease which is slowly ridding him of his eyesight, to inspire others with and without disabilities.
He thinks the 8th Annual Long Island Vision Walk benefiting the Foundation Fighting Blindness in Jones Beach on Oct. 11 is a perfect time to advocate for a cure of retinitis pigmentosa.
“I want to do everything I can to bring awareness to the disease in the hopes of finding a cure or treatment to get my sight back,” he stated. “If I had perfect eyesight, I would’ve gotten involved. It’s a great group.”
Kalberer, a 36-year-old Henry Viscardi School graduate, was born with cerebral palsy as a result of a lack of oxygen to his cerebral cortex.
“My speech and intellectual ability was not affected,” he said. “The area of my vision was always labeled legally blind since I was 12. My doctors always thought my vision was attributed to cerebral palsy. I was diagnosed with RP two years ago.”
Kalberer’s RP limits his sight. He says the retinas in his eyes are being destroyed and he’s limited to six or eight feet of frontal vision.
“The width of the top of a coffee mug is basically what I see through,” he said. “The great thing about the walk is bringing everyone together to raises awareness for people with visual impairment.”
His girlfriend Mary Alongi of Garden City, who works at Star and Angels Day Care, is what drove Kalberer to get involved with the Vision Walk. She volunteers with the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
“It supports the cure of retinal diseases and is a great way to raise money and get research going,” she said.
Alongi, 28, also has RP, but at its end stages. She was diagnosed at age 14. It progressed at age 20.
“It’s challenging at times,” said Alongi. “I love Michael. I always tell him that no matter what happens, he should think positive.”
The walk garners 300-400 participants per year, according to Director of Events Kate Van Benschoten. The foundation does 50 walks around the country each year.
“The mission of the foundation is to drive the research to provide prevention, treatment and cure for the entire spectrum of retinal degenerative diseases,” she said. “We’re raising funds to help people find these cures.”
Outside of advocating for the walk, Kalberer is heavily involved with the Weinberg Family Cerebral Palsy Center in Manhattan. He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and speech communications from Hofstra as well as his master’s in social work from Adelphi University. Kalberer’s expertise includes but is not limited to educating perspective special education teachers and students on how to create classroom and social environments.
“The walk is a perfect cause for me to lend my skills to,” Kalberer said. “I want people to come out and support a great cause while enjoying a day at the beach.”
Click here to donate to Michael’s team at the Vision Walk.