Young Portland artist learns she could go blind

Mariah Roelfs, 23, is battling juvenile open angle glaucoma

Mariah Roelfs, 23, is embracing her artistic side as she battles juvenile open angle glaucoma, October 26, 2016. (KOIN)
Mariah Roelfs, 23, is embracing her artistic side as she battles juvenile open angle glaucoma, October 26, 2016. (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The pages of Mariah Roelfs’ life are a mix of strength, inspiration and uncertainty as she faces her fear of a darkening future.

About 2 years ago, she went to the doctor thinking she needed new glasses. Instead, she learned her blurry vision was the result of juvenile open angle glaucoma.

Mariah Roelfs, 23, is embracing her artistic side as she battles juvenile open angle glaucoma, October 26, 2016. (KOIN)
Mariah Roelfs, 23, is embracing her artistic side as she battles juvenile open angle glaucoma, October 26, 2016. (KOIN)

“If I didn’t start treatment… I would be blind in 5 years,” Roelfs said.

Juvenile open angle glaucoma primarily affects people between the ages of 5 and 35. It’s usually detected late and can often cause advanced optic nerve damage.

The constant treatments, from eye drops to surgery, are taking a toll on the 23-year-old.

Light affects her ability to see and the vision she’s already lost is gone for good.

But the journey is also lighting her way as an artist.

“When I’m making collages, I feel very much at peace,” she said. “I say that I have successfully created my heaven because when I’m making things, I’m at my table, I’m at my desk, I’m able to do nothing but focus on what is at hand.”

One of the collages 23-year-old Mariah Roelfs created, October 26, 2016. (KOIN)
One of the collages 23-year-old Mariah Roelfs created, October 26, 2016. (KOIN)

Roelfs said she’s been passionate about art since she was young. She began making collages because she could re-use and recycle magazines into her own works of art.

Now she has a website called Micro-Collages and shares her work on Instagram.

Mariah Roelfs, 23, hopes to make a full-time career out of collaging, October 26, 2016. (KOIN)
Mariah Roelfs, 23, hopes to make a full-time career out of collaging, October 26, 2016. (KOIN)

“I make surreal art, surreal abstract art and it’s a long process where I find the best pictures I can through magazines,” Roelfs explained.

The peace she says she finds through art helps her face each day.

“I can see your eyes, I can see your hair, but that’s pretty much it,” Roelfs told KOIN 6 News reporter Amy Frazier.

GoFundMe: Mariah’s Glaucoma Journey

“Everything else is kind of blurry, and also light really affects me, so if someone is at a restaurant and I’m eating with them, I won’t be [able to see them]. Because of the contrast issue they will come up as black.”

What’s important to her now is to remain independent as she battles her disease.

“My future is, hopefully, to take my art and to create enough to make it a full-time career for the rest of my life as I’m getting more and more sick,” Roelfs said. “To still support myself… To create something when something was taken away from me.”