SUNDERLAND’S Face of Courage has lost her battle for the right to drive.
The Echo revealed in August that 47-year-old nurse Michelle Willis had been ordered by the DVLA to surrender her licence after a routine eye exam – despite an unblemished 30-year driving record.
Michelle touched the hearts of Wearsiders 30 years ago when the Echo highlighted her fight to lead a normal life through years of painful operations to rebuild the side of her face after she was born with a tumour where one of her eyes should be.
She was ordered to surrender her licence after going for an eye test in the summer.
An optician found a ‘pit’ on the back of her eye and referred her to Sunderland Eye Infirmary, where a consultant gave her the all-clear, but told her she would need to inform the authorities about the findings.
The DVLA referred her to an optician in Sunderland for a test of her peripheral vision, who delivered the heart-breaking news: “He said ‘If your vision has been this bad from birth, you should never have been given a driving licence in the first place,’” said Michelle.
She vowed to fight the decision but her appeal has now been refused.
Michelle is devastated and admitted she had been unprepared for how upsetting the ruling was.
“I did not think it would affect me this much,” she said. “I just feel like I am an animal, like I am caged.”
“I just feel really, really angry. It is as if the last 30 years have never existed.
“I have fought all my life to be treated as a normal person, but I am not allowed to be one.
“My eyesight has not deteriorated. I know I am a safe driver, I have never had an accident, but the last 30 years just does not matter.”
Michelle has been assured her job is safe but believes her chances of promotion have been destroyed.
“They don’t realise the impact this has on me,” she said.
“My job prospects are totally limited. If I look for a new job, I will have to look for somewhere I am able to get to by public transport.
“I just feel as if I have got to rely on people. I feel as if I am being hindered in work because I can’t just jump in the car and go somewhere.”
Mum Linda has taken up the fight on her daughter’s behalf and has even rung 10 Downing Street to lobby for the ruling to be overturned.
“Mum is totally my advocate, she always has been,” said Michelle.
“She was the one who fought for me to go to a normal school.”
The one consolation for Michelle has been the response of the public: “If I had a penny for everybody who has said ‘Where is your petition?’ I would be able to hire a chauffeur,” she said.
“Everybody is on my side, it is absolutely amazing.”