A rare condition that affects his vision hasn’t stopped Leicester’s Khalil Musani from forging a career in optics and helping others look after their eyes.
When Khalil secured a Saturday job at a Leicester opticians in 2017 it proved to be the catalyst to fulfilling his ambition to work in optometry.
Now, aged 21, and assistant manager at Specsavers Leicester, Khalil wants to raise awareness of nystagmus, the little-known condition he has lived with for most of his life, alongside building a career in optics.
Nystagmus is when you suffer from involuntary eye movements – it looks like the eyes are constantly moving, either side to side or up and down, in a circle or a combination of all three.
Following on from Nystagmus Awareness Day (June 20), Khalil is also keen to tell his story to show others how to make the most of opportunities that come your way despite the day-to-day challenges faced when living with the condition.
Khalil was diagnosed with nystagmus at six-months-old. Following his diagnosis, he was referred to the Leicester Royal Infirmary Ophthalmology department where they continued to monitor his condition.
At the age of six it was confirmed Khalil was suffering from achromatopsia which is a rare, inherited condition affecting about 1 in 30,000 to 40,000 people. It impacts the light-sensing cells responsible for colour vision and vision in bright light. Symptoms include partial or total colour blindness and reduced sharpness of vision. At the same time, he was also diagnosed with photophobia, which is a symptom of light intolerance, where the eyes are very sensitive to certain levels of light.
“When I was initially diagnosed my condition was quite severe and as I got older, I struggled with my confidence for a while as I tried to navigate the best ways to manage and live with all the symptoms – going outside with an acute sensitivity to light was daunting,” he said.
“Also, I didn’t fully understand the conditions and didn’t know anyone else who suffered from them which was quite isolating. Some people who suffer from nystagmus find it incredibly debilitating and struggle to leave the house, but I was determined.
“Over time, I have found my condition to be a hinderance but not always my biggest hinderance and certainly not something that is holding me back from the aspirations and ambitions I have,” he added.
Initially Khalil began working at Specsavers Leicester on Saturdays while studying psychology, economics and biology at college and found it a refreshing contrast to his academic studies, relishing the customer-facing role and the opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives and their vision.
Towards the end of his first year at college he started to consider his future, potential career paths and the aspirations he had held since an early age to work in optometry versus continuing his studies.
“I did a lot of research to consider all the options available to me at the time,” said Khalil. “I spoke at length to my parents who are always incredibly supportive and inspiring and discussed potential next steps with my manager at Specsavers Leicester. I decided to join the team full-time as there was so much scope for progression professionally and, importantly, from a personal development perspective too. My confidence has grown immeasurably since then.
“Initially I began with a role in the dispensing team, where I stayed for two years, then we expanded the team in 2020 and with a number of new starters a position opened up for an instore trainer. I’m a real people person and love to build a rapport with others so I jumped at the chance. I have learnt so much on my journey with Specsavers so far and wanted to share my knowledge with others as they embark on theirs. It has been so rewarding.”
“Khalil’s journey into optics has been remarkable and his determination and drive to succeed is second-to-none. He is a real asset to the team, brilliant with our customers and a great advocate for raising awareness of nystagmus which many people know little about,” said Dishpal Gawera, optometrist director at Specsavers Leicester.
“The Leicester Specsavers team have been amazing, encouraging me and helping me,” concluded Khalil. “The support from the team has been wonderful. They are always happy to help, I just need to ask but it is the little things they do for me every day that really make a difference, for example, I can’t always read the tiny numbers on the little barcode on the arms of the glasses, so they always make sure there is a scanner on every desk to make it easier.”