Fighting to save sight

When My Doctor... Looked Inside My Eyes, The First Words Out Of Her Mouth Were "Oh My God."

First Person

April 02, 2006|By STAN STOVALL | STAN STOVALL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Why me? That was my first thought upon learning that I had glaucoma, a disease that steals your vision. I had already lost most of the sight in my left eye and the damage was irreversible. I was in danger of losing the sight in my right eye, as well.

"How could this be?" I asked myself. I had always prided myself on being the picture of perfect health. I ate right, was obsessed with exercise, took loads of vitamin supplements, and was a bodybuilding and weight-lifting champion.

I felt great, felt no eye pain, and didn't really notice any difficulty in doing my job as a television news anchor, which, of course, requires lots of reading, both on-camera and off. But that's the tricky part about glaucoma. Most who get it won't feel or notice any changes in their sight until it's too late.

I certainly didn't.

It was a simple accident that opened my eyes and made me aware of the problem.

When my oldest son was about a year old (he's 13 now), he accidentally poked me in the left eye. I didn't think much of it. It did swell quite a bit and got real red, but after a couple of days, the swelling and redness went away. But as I held my hand over my right eye to check the vision in my left and see how the recovery was progressing, I noticed I couldn't see a thing.

I figured there might be some serious damage, like a detached retina, that required a doctor's attention. Keep in mind, at that time I had never been to an ophthalmologist in my life.

When my doctor dilated my pupils and looked inside my eyes, the first words out of her mouth were "Oh my God," which scared me to death! After a series of visual acuity tests, she concluded that I had open-angle [chronic] glaucoma, and unfortunately, I would never regain the lost sight in my left eye. It was too far gone, and I was in extreme danger of losing the sight in my right eye as well.

It was a life-altering moment for me. I was 41 years old, had just gotten married two years earlier, my first born was only a year old, my second child was due just months later, and I was going blind.

The thought of eventually not being able to literally see my children grow up brought me to tears. And then there were the career concerns. I have been a TV news broadcaster since I was 17, and I figured that was about to end, too.

But there was hope. I was put on the most common form of treatment, a regimen of eye drop therapy to try to save the tiny bit of sight I had in my left eye and spare my sight altogether in my right eye. I'll never regain the vision I've lost. My sight remains in check, and I'm very grateful for that.

While I spent decades trying to perfect my body from the neck down, like most people, I took my eyesight for granted. I never got an eye exam. I didn't know that glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the United States or that it is three to four times more likely to occur in blacks than in whites.

By not knowing, I missed one of the very few subtle warning signs for glaucoma that could have spared my vision. At night, if you look at a streetlight and see rainbow halos around the light, there's a chance you are in the early stages of glaucoma. Working late nights, being a new dad, and not getting much sleep, I just chalked it up to what I thought was tired eyes.

If it hadn't been for that poke in the eye from my son, I probably never would have seen a doctor and literally could have woken one morning completely blind. Ten years ago, I became a board member for the Maryland Society for Sight.

I also have done numerous reports on the air about the importance of early detection.

The key things people should know about glaucoma: People at highest risk include blacks older than 40, everyone older than 60, and people with a family history of glaucoma.

If you fit in one of the high-risk groups, be smart, get a dilated eye exam at least every two years and save your sight. Take it from someone who knows first-hand.

Stan Stovall is a television anchor for WBAL-TV, Channel 11. For more information on glaucoma, go to mdsociety forsight.org.

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