Ophthalmology Patient Stories
Myopic choroidal neovascularization
Wanderlust and curiosity defined Paullette Moorer’s life. She moved from South Carolina to Arizona and later Hawaii. In her youth, a poem she’d read inspired her to move to Australia. “I was independent and liked to move around. I would just pack up and go on my own,” laughs Paullette. “Back when I was working, if you could type and take shorthand, you could find a job anywhere.”
When she was nearing retirement, she began to think of all the new places she could travel. But six months before her last day of work, she noticed a gray cloud develop in her left eye. “I was first told that I had cataracts and would need them removed.” She’d been nearsighted for much of her life, but when she returned to South Carolina, she was referred to a retina specialist was also diagnosed her with myopic choroidal neovascularization (mCNV). mCNV is a complication of severe near-sightedness that can lead to blindness.1
While Paullette was waiting for her cataract surgery and to receive treatments for her mCNV, her eyesight deteriorated badly. “You don’t realize how much you depend on your vision until you’re going to lose it,” she says. Luckily she was physically and emotionally close to her family. One of eleven children, Paullette was able to rely on her sisters for support and to drive her around. While none of her siblings have any symptoms of mCNV, Paullette has helped educate them and her friends, “I would tell them to get your yearly eye exam, and if you hold up a crossword puzzle and the lines look wavy instead of straight, go to a doctor right away.”
After a successful surgery and series of treatments, Paullette’s vision has improved. She is now teaching herself to knit, picking out seeds for her vegetable garden, and of course, reading about other women’s traveling adventures until her next trip.
Believed to affect approximately 41,000 people in the U.S., mCNV most commonly affects people between ages 45 and 64 – affecting women more than men.2 To learn more about the disease, see our “Understanding mCNV” infographic.
Retinal vein occlusion
David, a retired firefighter in the Washington D.C. area, is not the type to run to the doctor. But three years ago, sitting in his recliner watching TV one evening, his vision blurred and he started seeing what looked like spider webs floating across his right eye.
He went to bed hoping it would just go away. “It’s a funny feeling when you go to sleep thinking everything will be fine, and you wake up and it’s not,” David says. “I knew something was terribly wrong.” After a visit to his regular eye doctor, David was referred to a retina specialist, who diagnosed him with macular edema after retinal vein occlusion (RVO) and immediately sought treatment.
In the U.S., RVO affects more than one million people, most over 50, and is the second-most common cause of vision loss due to retinal vascular disease. In RVO, blood vessels within or behind the eye become blocked, leading to a buildup of blood and other fluids, which eventually leak into the eye, blurring central and peripheral vision.
At first, David was upset about his diagnosis. He feared he’d no longer be able to read the newspaper, use the computer, or drive his ‘86 Chevy El Camino. He worried it would affect his ability to spend time with his three sons, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Fortunately, there are treatment options for David’s macular edema following RVO and he has worked with his retina specialist to keep his condition under control. He’s still able to enjoy his family and favorite activities, and doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon.
Wet age-related macular degeneration
Lloyd recently celebrated “the 40th anniversary of his 40th birthday” with a few friends, neighbors and family members at his home in Lexington, South Carolina. He loves to laugh, play golf and watch football–especially his team, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. Life has been good for Lloyd, a former sales manager, and his wife of 57 years, Betty.
He credits part of his good fortune to a routine eye exam, which may have helped save his vision. Six years ago, he began to notice wavy lines creeping into his right eye, and says “things were blurry from time to time.” Lloyd, who made a habit of having his eyes checked annually, told his eye doctor, who tested his vision with a grid, gave him a new prescription for glasses, and told him to hurry back if the lines became wavy.
One night, while reading the paper on the porch, Lloyd noticed that the mini-blinds on the windows looked like they were “wiggling along like a worm.” His doctor sent him to a retina specialist who diagnosed Lloyd with wet age-related macular degeneration (wAMD).
AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over the age of 60. There are two types of AMD, dry and wet, both characterized by central vision loss. Dry AMD progresses more slowly and can lead to legal blindness. Wet AMD affects only 10 percent of people with AMD, but progresses more quickly and can cause the total loss of central vision. Early detection is key to delay or reduce the disease’s severity. The first symptom is often a dim, blurry spot in the middle of one’s vision.
Since Lloyd’s wet AMD was caught early, he and his retina specialist were able to work on a plan for him. But it could have turned out much worse–as it did for Lloyd’s neighbor John. Unlike Lloyd, by the time John found out he had AMD, it was too late to delay the disease, and he went almost completely blind in both eyes. Lloyd checks in with his retina specialist every few months, but his vision has been good for a while now.
Prevent Blindness America has resources for those who have been recently diagnosed with AMD, their family members, and caregivers.
Mike is a tinkerer. A mechanical engineer by training, he traveled the world working (including in R&D) for a rubber company. He retired after 42 years and moved on to home projects like welding, fixing up old cars (including a 1963 Corvette), and outfitting a 1955 Schwinn bike with a belt drive that makes his rides through canyons to fly fish smooth. But all that changed three years ago at the end of the fishing season.
“I was having trouble seeing the fly in the water,” says Mike. He made an appointment with his eye doctor who referred him to a specialist. In the meantime, his symptoms got worse. “I couldn’t read a map, a book or a computer. I couldn’t thread a fly on the hook. Couldn’t weld,” he says. “Everything went to hell. It gets you down after a while.” His mother had macular degeneration, and that is what his first doctor initially diagnosed him with as well. But the specialist discovered that he had diabetic retinopathy.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes and the leading cause of blindness in adults in the US. It is caused by damage to the retina’s blood vessels. For Mike, he also had unchecked high blood pressure that caused bleeding in the back of his eyeball.
“My eyesight going bad let me know that I was diabetic.” A trim, active man whose weight hasn’t varied much in 35 years, he was hardly the stereotype of a type-2 diabetes patient. And his blood pressure was also consistently good in the past. His health was so good, he rarely went to a doctor. “Now I have learned to go to the doctor at least once a year,” he laughs, noting that he has also cut out sweets, watches his carbohydrates, and is on a stationary bike every night to manage his condition. “Life changes,” Mike says in a deadpan that could be Zen or cowboy.
He also gets treatments for his eyesight .“Being able to thread a fly and weld...everything is fun again.” As soon as he could, he went back to work—tutoring school children, volunteering at his church, welding, fishing, and even engineering. He now works part-time for an engineering firm, doing control work on pasteurizers and specialized equipment at the federal Mint and building a giant water meter system for oil field. “I get to work on such fun stuff Seeing clearly makes your whole day better.”
Pam was a middle school counselor for many years, helping young students handle the stresses of life, but it wasn’t until recently that she began taking her own advice. “I am a worrier,” she says. “But lately there have been things that have made me realize that every day is special.” One of those things was being diagnosed with geographic atrophy (GA).
GA is a result of advanced dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD). It is distinguished by an island of lost photoreceptor cells that can distort vision. Once these cells are lost, they cannot be brought back. GA is a slow process, and patients will retain peripheral vision and not go completely blind. There are no treatments for GA.
Diagnosed at a relatively early age with AMD, Pam had been told she had the dry and slow-progressing type. She learned to be on the lookout for any changes in her vision. For a number of years, her eyesight was stable and 20/20 with glasses. Then two years ago, she was riding in her car, checking her vision by closing one eye and then the other, when she noticed the images in her right eye were distorted. She went to her doctor that day and learned that the GA had gotten into her central vision.
Doing anything up close, like reading, has been difficult. However, with magnification and her peripheral vision (which is still intact), she can see most things well. As a result, she has not slowed down since her GA diagnosis nor after her retirement from public education. “I want to stay as active as I can,” Pam says. “When you retire, you are busier than ever.”
She crochets, enjoys crafting, plays piano, creates a yearly family treasure hunt, and gardens—canning her home-grown tomatoes and green beans and making apple butter to last through the cold Kentucky winters. And she is trying her hand at sewing, making a skirt for her nine-month-old granddaughter, whom she calls her “best treatment” and her “little sunshine.”
Pam knows her vision will continue to decline, albeit slowly, so she is exploring aids and services. “I love to play new music and am excited to find low-vision equipment that will help me read sheet music.” In the meantime, she is doing everything she can to stay healthy—eating green vegetables, exercising regularly, taking vitamin supplements, and keeping positive thoughts. “I just keep thinking about a quote from Warren Zevon, ‘Enjoy every sandwich.’ That is contradictory to how I did things most of my life, but that little phrase has helped me so much.”
Giant Cell Arteritis
Sam is an upbeat, multi-tasker. She is a single mother, an avid paper crafter, teacher, and a researcher at the University of Michigan at Dearborn. But two years ago, she began to experience pain in the back of her neck. She was given a prescription for ibuprofen, but the pain did not go away.
Another doctor gave her a shot that was supposed to relieve the pain for two weeks, but the relief lasted only two hours. “I had never been really ill in my life. I thought I was a hypochondriac because then I started having temporomandibular joint disorder,” says Sam. “It was also difficult to pull a t-shirt over my head.” Eventually, Sam had to cancel teaching and back away from paper crafting.
Her regular doctor was on vacation, so she saw a second internist who diagnosed her with polymyalgia. She went home and immediately began researching the condition. She realized that she might actually have giant cell arteritis (GCA). A temporal biopsy confirmed her hunch. As an African-American, she does not fit the typical profile, and she is grateful for the almost-correct diagnosis and for her own research and advocating.
GCA is an inflammation of blood vessels, most often in the scalp and head, particularly around the temples. A persistent headache is a common symptom. (GCA can overlap with polymyalgia rheumatica.) GCA occurs only in older adults. Women, particularly women of Scandinavian descent, are 2-3 times more likely to have it than men. If not treated promptly, it can lead to loss of vision, stroke or death.
Because there is not much awareness about GCA and because Sam is so positive, many of her friends were unaware about her level of pain. “The only person who really understood is a friend who is a retired pediatrician,” she says. “Now I have an elevator speech about GCA and two friends who go with me to my doctor’s office.”
She is now in treatment, but the side effects have been debilitating. She developed an ulcer in her mouth and an issue with her internal sugar regulation that became pre-diabetes. Nonetheless, she knows she is one of the lucky ones. She could have lost her sight permanently. “I remember to appreciate the birds singing in the morning and the smaller things in life,” says Sam. “Now I also have a greater appreciation for pain my brother experienced most of his life. He died at the age of 50 and had rheumatoid arthritis since he was seven years old.”
And as her pain and symptoms subside, she is returning to her passions, preparing to teach once again and making greeting cards and purses for friends.