Tue, Mar 20, 2018 10:25 PM
Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
2004-01-30 communities
Smile Awhile
The light at the end of the tunnel
Sara Hopson
For a half year now my eyesight has deteriorated to the point that I am legally blind. I have been legally blind in my left eye since I was 8 years old, but in the last six months my right eye has fallen into the same category.

I write this column with the use of a new and brighter plasma computer screen that Ronnie's nephew, Matt, adjusted so that the letters are 10 times bigger than normal. That and a pair of strong reading glasses along with a Sherlock Holmes held magnifying glass topped off by my leaning in until my nose is 4 inches from the screen and most of the time I can make out what I am writing. (Thankfully Ronnie is a good proof-reader, and I am a proficient typist.)

It has been a long journey.

When I was 18 months old, my parents noticed that my left eye was wandering. (Thank goodness it was contained or Lord knows where it would have ended up!) In an attempt to straighten the "lazy" eye, I was fitted with glasses. I hated them! Mother would find them in the garbage can, under my bed, and even in the commode.

The problem was that my eye had been crossed for so long that my optic nerve had atrophied. Since the glasses didn't improve my vision, I didn't need them. My right eye had already compensated for the poor vision in my left eye so I had adapted to the deficit.

When I was about five years old, I went to the new optometrist in town, Dr. Joe Conley. I loved him. (I still do.) At his suggestion, I went to an opthamologist in Huntington and had strabismus surgery to straighten my left eye. I then went through a lengthy process of wearing patches over my right eye so that my left eye could take over the work, thereby strengthening itself. Alas, nothing worked and the vision in my left eye didn't improve.

As the years passed, my left eye again began to wander, but this time instead of turning inward, it went outward. It eventually became so pronounced that people didn't know if I was looking at them or not. (One time I accused my brother-in-law of ignoring me. I was so upset I told my sister that I thought her husband didn't like me because sometimes when I was talking with him he wouldn't answer me. When Melinda confronted Ed about it he replied, "I thought she was talking to you!")

At this point, I again consulted Dr. Conley. He assured me that much progress had been made in corrective surgery so he referred me to an opthamologist in Lexington. This opthamologist then referred me to a surgeon in Cincinnati, and at the age of 35, I had another strabismus surgery. When the first surgery was performed they only strengthened the muscle on one side of the eye which allowed the eye to turn in the opposite direction. During the second surgery, they had the medical expertise to align both muscles so the eye could not wander from left to right. Although I still had limited vision in my left eye, my right eye was less distracting and people could tell who and where I was looking.

That was in 1986. In 2000, I was diagnosed with a very rare cancer called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma of the conjunctiva. Although the prognosis was good, the treatment (radiation therapy) would leave me with no lacrimal glands (tear ducts) so I could no longer cry or produce moisture. And as a side-affect of the radiation, I developed cataracts.

For the next two years, I did exceptionally well, even though I had to adopt an extensive eye-drop regimen followed by various bi-yearly tests including CT scans, MRI's and monthly blood work. Then in May of 2003, the vision in my "good" eye was becoming increasingly compromised. When I returned to my opthamologist he confirmed that the cataracts were impairing my vision and he sent me to a specialist in Lexington. (For the most part, cataract surgery has been perfected and is not considered major; however, due to the excessive dryness of my eyes, and the fact that I only have one "good" eye, I am considered a risk.) The specialist gave me no alternatives and told me to come back in six months. Four months later, out of sheer frustration and fear, I made an appointment with an opthamologist in Indianapolis who assured me that surgery would be successful. Unfortunately, it was out-of-network for my insurance so I was directed to another specialist in Cincinnati who also told me my prognosis was good. I was scheduled for surgery on February 12th, but last week I received another call and was told my surgery had been rescheduled for January 30.

Please let me assure you, I am not lamenting about my condition. There are people who have much more serious and life-threatening illnesses. I am fortunate and grateful that my cancer has not reoccurred, and I am thankful everyday when I awake and can see anything. There are those who do not have this option. Even though I know I will continue to have eye problems, I am elated that there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, and my vision might be restored. By the time you read my next column we'll know if the operation is a success. And what is my definition of success? I'd just like to be able to read a book again.

Thank you for letting me share my story with you, and I pray that my experience helps someone else.

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