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Volunteer tax preparer not stopped by macular degeneration

Charles Montgomery provides assistance

Staff writer

A year ago, Virginia Downing of Marion wasn’t sure if she would be able to continue processing tax returns for low-income elderly in Marion. She was having an eye problem!

The problem began when she started waking up in the morning with her eyes feeling pasted shut. She went to an eye doctor who informed her she was experiencing the onset of macular degeneration. He prescribed eye drops and an eye ointment.

Downing has the dry form of macular degeneration, in which the macula begins to deteriorate. The macula is a small area in the back of the eye that provides sharp, central vision for reading, driving, and seeing fine detail.

Downing said the condition is pain free. Her biggest problem is reflection or glare. Symptoms also include double vision or wavy lines and overlapping columns when reading.

One eye is worse than the other for Downing. Symptoms vary from day to day. Some days, her vision is better than others. She avoids driving at night.

Downing has been voluntarily preparing tax returns in the area ever since moving to Marion in 1992. People now must file returns electronically to avoid paying a fee. However, because of her eye problem, Downing cannot work on a computer.

That’s where Charles Montgomery comes into the picture. This is his second year as her assistant. She fills out the forms, and then reads the numbers to him, and he enters them into the computer.

“Charles is a lifesaver to me,” she said. “Without him, I couldn’t do it.”

Downing said she sometimes has to look at the material from different angles to read the numbers clearly, and she’s sure to double check them.

The two begin work at Marion Senior Center at 9 a.m. five days a week during tax season. They break at noon and continue in the afternoon, if necessary. They encourage individuals they serve to donate something to the senior center, if they have the means.

Downing limits her work to simple returns in which individuals apply for property tax credits and food sales tax refunds.

She used to go to some people’s homes, but now the information is brought to the senior center. She finds satisfaction in providing a service they could not otherwise afford.

There is no cure for macular degeneration. On the advice of her optometrist, Downing takes a vitamin and mineral supplement and eats a cup of blueberries every morning. She said the blueberries, which are high in antioxidants, seem to keep the macular degeneration from progressing.

Downing just turned 81. She and Montgomery plan to continue to provide tax preparation and filing as many years as they can.

Last modified Feb. 18, 2010

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