Smoke Signals: September transplant could be a final stop on diminishing eyesight slide

Hub reporter preparing for surgery

by Tim Troglen | reporter Published:

Life is fond of tossing us curve balls, and on July 25, I was thrown a doozy.

At the end of an eye appointment, Dr. William R. Rudy, of Hudson, gave me some news I was not prepared for: "There's nothing more I can do for you," he said. "You might want to consider a transplant."

Transplant.

That word hit me in the pit of my stomach. I've never even had my tonsils out. And now my doctor is telling me I'll have to have my right cornea cut out and replaced with one from a donor.

The reason for the transplant is keratoconus, an eye disease which causes the cornea to thin and become scarred. The thinning cornea cannot hold its shape and changes from normal round to a bulging cone. Imagine a lizard's eye.

I've known for years that one day I might need the transplant; I just didn't expect it this soon. I was hoping for another scleral contact to try in my right eye.

Over the years my symptoms have varied, but within the last two, have gotten worse. Sometimes I wake up and feel like small grains of glassy sand are being ground into my eyes. It can also happen after I insert the contacts or when I'm driving.

I'm not telling my story to elicit sympathy. There are so many people worse off than me. However, I am hoping by writing this it will help me to deal with a growing fear, as my Sept. 18 transplant date approaches.

Also, maybe reading this can help other folks. I know the disease can be both frustrating and depressing at times. But I also know it's not the end of functioning vision and that is important to know for anyone newly diagnosed.

Aside from the disease itself, the toughest part, for me, is trying to explain to friends and family what's going on with my eyes. I usually get the old "can you see test." "Can you see that sign?" "Can you see that car?" "Can you see that bird?"

I'm often able to give them my own test. Feel free to take it and see how your eyes stack up.

Look at a full moon. You see one, right? I see as many as six.

Most lights are surrounded by a ghostly aura and reading a simple text on my phone is an exercise in futility, on "bad eye days."

Reading the newspaper is impossible, unless I use strong reading glasses and squint. I mostly listen to TV, instead of watching it, and my eyes always feel better closed because nothing is in total focus. The trees I used to look at for hours are just blurry masses of green clouds which sometimes, if I'm lucky, I can see swaying in the wind.

The disease has made for some fun stories, and I often laugh at myself.

During January, I took my 116 pound German Shepherd, Chance, out to the yard for his potty break. I saw shadows standing near the corner of my front yard. It was cold and appeared to be three people wearing pointed ski caps. I didn't want Chance to get startled at the silent figures and bark, so I kept him with me, on the front porch, for about 30 minutes, hoping the folks would move on -- they didn't.

The next morning I saw the "shadowy figures" as I was backing out of my driveway. Someone had put a discarded Christmas tree in the vacant lot adjacent to my yard. It's OK to laugh. My co-workers enjoy that story, too.

However, some stories are not so funny.

I've tripped over more than one curb I could not see and stumbled due to a slight incline or decline on floors, walkways and parking lots. My depth perception is compromised and stepping from a curb can be an adventure. I've fallen because I cannot tell wet winter pavement from ice.

I've been fitted with special contact lenses which are almost as round as a quarter and deep enough to hold 10 drops of a special solution I have to add each time I insert them, which could be up to four times a day. The contacts are a pain, but allow me to function. Maybe the transplant will be less of a pain, in the long run.

I appreciate you letting me share this. I'll keep you posted through additional columns and my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Again, this is not to get sympathy but to help me cope. To me, writing is therapy.

Of course, if you have a prayer or two you can spare, feel free to send them my way. All of those "donations" are appreciated.

Email: ttroglen@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9435

Facebook: TimTroglenRPC

Twitter: @Trog_RPC

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