I have been through it all! I had years of eye patching, three surgeries, and too many visits to the eye doctor to count. My name is Brittany and here is my story. I was born with a cataract in my left eye and had it operated on when I was 13 days old. My cataract was discovered accidentally, when my parents took me in for a minor skin infection and the doctor started to perform a “well-baby” check-up. When she tried to get a red reflex from my left eye, there was no response. So a fluke visit to my pediatrician probably saved my sight. Upon hearing the news of my cataract, my parents were shocked, confused and depressed. They did not know what it meant for a newborn baby to be born with a cataract and what the chances were for good eyesight in the near future. Spending many hours in the library, they researched every book on cataracts and surgeries to come up with a course of action.
My dad told me that he remembered my mom had come back crying one time from the library after reading that my vision was likely to be poor and I could even go blind. It was a scary and terrible experience for my parents; they had to explore their options, try to understand a medical field they were totally unfamiliar with, and choose a surgeon and course of action. Fortunately, the operation went smoothly and my cataract was removed from my left eye. The next obstacle was recovering from the surgery. Since the lens of my left eye had been removed, I had to wear a soft contact lens in order to see. The eyesight in my left eye needed to be strengthened since the cataract had prevented any sight in the first several weeks of life. As it was told to me years later, the brain is what really sees, so I needed to force that to happen by patching my “good” eye. The doctors said I had to place a patch over my right eye for 3-4 hours a day, until I was nine years old. It was very important to do this so that I would learn to not only rely on my “good” eye which was the right one but also my “bad” eye which was the left one. This was very difficult for my parents because I was just a little baby and obviously did not want to keep a patch on my eye. Crying, kicking and screaming, I would fidget with the patch and always try to take it off. My parents would constantly have to watch me and make sure that the patch was securely kept on my eye. They actively tried to amuse me with black-and-white stimulating toys, walks outside, books, etc. I had to wear this patch every day for nine years. Wow! Now, that seems like such a long, tiresome and difficult task, and in truth, it most definitely was . . . especially for my loving and caring parents who had to put up with my kicking and screaming. But they were devoted, conscientious and relentless.
As I grew up, like most children, I went to school, became interested in sports, music and other activities and loved to hang out with my friends. I tried to avoid wearing my patch in front of my friends and out in public but there were times when I had to. This was sometimes a difficult task to overcome because I felt like a strange pariah, an outsider wanting to be accepted by a community that didn’t understand. It seemed like I was a little girl with a pirate’s eye patch on my left eye. Who wouldn’t find that strange? It was a challenge for me but I faced it with courage and confidence. Although I usually tried to wear the patch when I was inside my house, that was becoming even more difficult because I had to go about my daily activities without using my good eye. I had to do my homework, practice the piano etc. I knew it was important for me to go about my normal schedule with the eye patch because I needed to make my left eye stronger and the only way for me to do that was to not use my right eye.
Aside from the eye patching, I had the soft contact lens placed in my left eye. I became extremely used to it because it was always in my eye. The only exception was when it was cleaned and I had to sleep without it for only one night. It’s pretty ironic that while most people who are nearsighted or farsighted hate to wear contact lenses and sometimes even choose glasses instead, I feel so comfortable with my lens that I hate to take it out to clean. Although this lack of a lens in my left eye from time to time presents an annoying and uncomfortable nuisance, I haven’t faced many major problems with its use. A big milestone came when I finally reached the age of nine and was able to throw out my boxes of eye patches and free myself and my parents from this hassle. However, my story does not end here and it even gets more complicated.
In a routine visit to the eye doctor, I found the pressure in my left eye was very high, a condition known as glaucoma. It is pretty common to develop glaucoma after having a cataract removed in early childhood. But then again it is not very common to have a cataract at such a young age; normally older, senior citizens develop cataracts. Regardless, my parents and I had another task to overcome. The first question, probably the most important one to ask was what type of surgery should I have done? There were many different kinds of ways to handle glaucoma; some were more extreme than others and the effects of some were much more visible than others. My parents first tried a trabeculotomy — the least invasive procedure to try to improve the drainage in my eye. It worked initially and lowered my pressure, but was only temporary and became unsuccessful. The next two options were a flap and a tube shunt. After researching these surgeries and listening attentively to Dr. Wilson, we decided to go with the second. On operation day, we went to the hospital with anxiety and apprehension. As a young child, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on so I was confused when I saw the fear in my parents’ faces. I felt no anxiety and only looked forward to the present my parents said they bought me if I behaved like a good little girl on the day of my surgery! We got to the hospital and they sectioned us off into a room with a big leather chair that I comfortably sat in, waiting for the surgery to commence. I clearly and vividly remember a young woman asking me what flavor medicine I would prefer; cherry or coke. Hating cherries, artificial cherry flavoring and basically anything that has to do with cherries, I asked for the coca-cola flavor. After a couple minutes or so, she came back with a tiny cup filled with the coca-cola flavored medicine. I drank this disgusting liquid, wishing I had picked the cherry flavor because it had to have been better than this awful medicine I was forced to swallow. Soon after drinking this medicine, I fell asleep.
When I awoke, the surgery was over and I had a hard, clear, plastic eye patch taped securely down on my left eye. It was extremely uncomfortable but I still felt numb from the medicine. I was only allowed to drink apple juice and eat crackers and was so hungry! During my recovery period, my eye pressure went down dramatically and stayed down. This surgery turned out to be a great success. Afterwards, I had to put two different types of drops in my eye, one of them every two hours while I was awake; one inhibited scarring and the other prevented infection. I had to sleep with the plastic shield and I vividly remember the mornings I had to rip the tape off from my eye and the excruciating pain I experienced. My skin, red and raw, was a constant reminder of my operation. My parents were always extremely conscientious in making sure the drops were put in my eye, but as I became older I took on that responsibility. I remember going to overnight camp and realizing that the responsibility was all mine; no longer were my parents there to remind me. That experience definitely helped me to become a more independent and responsible individual.
Now as a 16-year-old junior at the Baldwin school, I can proudly state that I have not had any other operations. Although initially I used eye drops to keep my pressure down and prevent inflammation, today my eye pressure stays low without the use of any drops at all. I am very fortunate to have had an excellent visual result from these surgeries. My vision in my left eye, although clearly not as good as that in my right eye, still is quite strong. I can now proudly state that I have 20-20 vision in my right (good) eye and about 20-25 or 20-30 vision in my left eye. I lead a very normal life and my eye continues to remain strong and healthy. I am able to play sports at a varsity level, drive a car, and keep up with all my friends. The only time I have some trouble seeing is during chemistry class when we work with the microscope and I don’t see as well through my left eye. Although I know I have some binocularity (2 eyes working together) I use my right eye much more than I use my left. Although this has been difficult for me, I am extremely fortunate to be able to see as well as I can out of my left eye. I go to see Dr. Wilson every three to four months or so to make sure my eye pressure is staying down, my vision is remaining steady and my tube shunt is in good position and working well. I wanted to start this project to show children with glaucoma, cataracts, etc, and their parents the challenges my parents and I had to overcome and the successful results I have had. Having experienced the fears, anxieties and setbacks of these diseases, I know what you are all going through. I hope after reading my story, you will be encouraged by my outcome and less fearful about your journey ahead.