My Story: Unyielding, Unapologetic, Unbroken

Basim served as an intern with the NCCVEH this academic year while completing his Master of Public Health degree from Northwestern University. He shares his personal journey living with Stargardt disease.

From the trenches of adversity, I pen this narrative—not as a plea for sympathy, but as a testament to sheer indomitability. I am Basim Althani, a 27-year-old colossus who has been defying Stargardt Disease since the age of 23 years, though the battle commenced long before, when I was but a 4-year-old boy barely able to discern the faces of those around me. Despite the early signs, the journey from dim vision to academic titan was fraught with ignorance, neglect, and outright dismissal. But here I stand, unfazed and victorious.

Stargardt disease is an inherited retinal disease (IRD) that causes damage to the macula. Find out more at

Elementary school unveiled the harsh reality of my condition, prompting my parents to negotiate a front-row seat to education while inadvertently casting me into the arena of ridicule. “Four eyes,” they jeered, oblivious to the fact that their taunts only fueled my ascent to academic prominence. By the end of my school career, I was not just a student; I was an institution, representing my school among Riyadh’s elite, a linchpin in its competitive prowess. Any attempt to dethrone me was met with swift retribution, not merely as a punitive measure but as a declaration: I am invincible.

This resilience was not born of vanity but necessity. My academic journey was a testament to unwavering determination, leading me to triumph in mathematics and chemistry Olympiads, and to forge a path toward medical science. The degradation of my vision was met with innovation, not surrender. Thick glasses gave way to a groundbreaking combination of contact lenses and spectacles, a testament to my refusal to be defined by my limitations.

College, however, was a stark contrast to the nurturing environment of my schooling years. At a college of pharmacy, I was met with indifference and hostility, a stark reminder that the world beyond had not evolved. The institution’s blunt refusal to accommodate my needs was a clarion call to seek greener pastures. The higher education system’s apathy towards individuals with disabilities in STEM fields was a barrier I was determined to overcome. And overcome, I did. With the unwavering support of my family and government, I secured a scholarship to the United States, where my academic pursuits flourished, culminating in a Master of Public Health degree from one of the globe’s most esteemed institutions.

Why adopt such a seemingly egotistical narrative, you ask? Because life has tempered me with enough trials to render me fearless. The constant shadow of vision loss has hardened my resolve, leaving no room for mediocrity or the acceptance of disrespect. My heart has petrified against those who dared to undermine me, yet it remains supple for those who have shown true support.

To the naysayers, the bullies, and the institutions that sought to derail me: Your presence in my story is a mere footnote, a reminder of the adversities I’ve surmounted. My gratitude is reserved for the true architects of my success: my family, my teachers, and the visionary leadership of my homeland, whose faith in me was unwavering.

Let this be known: Vision loss is not my crutch; it is my spear. It is not an excuse but a rallying cry to those who find themselves in the throes of adversity. The essence of blindness lies not in the inability to see, but in the failure to envision a future unbounded by the physical constraints of the world.

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