BALTIMORE — To fight again, or not to fight again?
Glen Burnie boxer Chuck Sturm walked into Dr. Mark W. Preslan's office yesterday expecting a "yes" or "no" answer.
The answer he got was a definite "maybe."
As a professional boxer, Sturm is probably the biggest draw at Glen Burnie's La Fontaine Bleu.
But because of damage to the fourth nerve in his right eye, Sturm has been "seeing double" for at least 15 months. For the last year, his battles have moved from the four corners of the ring to the four walls of doctors' offices.
Yesterday's hourlong exam revealedthat Sturm sees normally only when looking at an object to his left."Straight on or to my right side, I see two of you," said Sturm, 26.
Preslan, an ophthalmologist with the University of Maryland, saidSturm may have to undergo an operation as soon as Jan. 1 to "recess," or weaken, the inferior oblique muscle in his right eye.
"That would involve cutting, suturing right outside the eye," said Preslan, who was recommended by Dr. Leeds E. Katzen, the eye specialist who operated on Sugar Ray Leonard's detached retina.
"The muscles for the face and those under his eye go to the same spot in the head. When the nerve gets damaged, the muscle doesn't work -- it gets weaker," he said.
"Now he's got one muscle up here (pointing to an area above the right eyelid) that's innervated by a nerve that is damaged, andit's working against a muscle here (below the eye) that's normal. The lower muscle is overreacting.
"The muscle surgery would weaken the muscle that's still working normally and counteract the one that'sweak. It should get rid of the double vision."
Preslan said he still has to rule out other possible problems before proceeding with the operation.
"After that," he told Sturm, "I see no reason why youcan't box."
Sturm, who estimates he will face at least six monthsof inactivity after the operation, said he has several options to consider before returning to the ring. At 155 pounds, he is 15 pounds over the junior-lightweight fighting limit.
His wife, Tracey Sturm,a 29-year-old student at Anne Arundel Community College, has 2 1/2 years left to complete a business degree. Every time Chuck has been injured while boxing, Tracey has quit school to support the couple.
Sturm -- who earns $27,000 a year as a truck driver -- has grossed only about $12,000 as a boxer, including $3,500 for his biggest payday last year, against Vinnie Burgese.
Preslan did not rule out the possibility of re-injury should Sturm resume his boxing career.
"He could re-injure the nerve or a different nerve," Preslan said. "We really don't know what occurred. He's had a number of injuries. It could have happened from boxing."
Along with boxing, Preslan cited as possibilities a camping accident last summer, in which Sturm fell andbanged his right jawbone against a rock, and a Jan.
15 trucking accident, in which Sturm lay pinned in an 18-wheeler after rolling it on Interstate 83.
Preslan also said Sturm could have damaged the cranial nerves that control the nasal labial fold, or the muscles on the right side of his face. The muscles give the face its definition, and when the controlling nerves get weak, the face may droop.
"Sturm's face," Preslan said, "is a little looser on the right side from the other side, although you can't tell it when he smiles."
At onepoint during the examination, Sturm produced a spa membership card with a picture he said was 4 or 5 years old.
Noting the same "slight asymmetry" to the sides of Sturm's face, Preslan said Sturm "actually has the same facial construction (as today), which makes me feel better."
"We're worried about things that are progressive, and thispicture indicates that it's not acute or getting worse."
Sturm first noticed his double vision two months before his last fight -- a controversial 10-round loss to Burgese in Atlantic City, N.J.'s Harrah's Marina Hotel last summer.
But "the Pit Bull," who entered that bout with a 22-2-1 record and a 17-bout unbeaten streak, kept the problem a secret until afterward.