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The Opthomologist’s Office

January 10, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker


You’ll find this article to be written more on a personal note than my previous submissions. It is based more on feelings than on critical analysis of blindness issues. I hope it brings about some sharing of experiences as blind people dealing with our eye doctors. For many of us, constant follow up and occasional surgical procedures are just another fact of life.


The root cause of my blindness is congenital glaucoma. Glaucoma is essentially an excessive build up of fluid in the eye. This condition causes optic nerve damage along with other secondary eye conditions. I lost my left eye at age three after numerous surgical procedures. I retain a small, unmeasured amount of sight in my right eye. The tunnel vision enables me to see colors, shapes and some detail. I am usually able to visually match my clothes. Though I am unable to read print, I can see the color and shape of dialogue boxes and other windows that pop up on my computer’s screen.


A special valve in my right eye controls the pressure, stabilizing the glaucoma. The most obvious and correctable secondary condition has been cornea damage. On November 1, 2004, I finally decided to undergo my fourth cornea transplant on my right eye in hopes of gaining an increase in sight. A lens was also implanted to replace the cataract removed when I was a small child. This operation did result in a slight increase in sight, but I have noticed a slight reversal over the past month or so. I have also experienced a significant amount of pain that actually increased in the weeks after surgery. This morning, I had another of my bi-weekly appointments with the surgeon who performed this latest operation. The news was ultimately disappointing.


Shortly after surgery, we observed that the outer surface of the cornea was not healing properly. Reduction of the Pred Forte eye drops to four times per day has improved this healing process, but, alas, there’s another problem. My cornea is becoming cloudy again. The new cornea was crystal clear for at least a month to six weeks after surgery. My doctor is unable to explain to me why my new cornea is already clouding up. I have been fanatical about taking care of my eye after surgery. I haven’t missed any medications and I have been careful with my physical activity. The doctor just tells me that this is how these things go with eyes like mine. He still holds out some hope that this new cornea will clear up somewhat and that, in eight or nine months, I may notice significantly improved vision.


I still enjoy a slight visual improvement in some ways after surgery, though the lens has resulted in a minor reduction in distance vision. Some things I could see before surgery now show a little brighter and with a bit more detail. Sadly, as I have stated earlier, I do feel like there has been some reversal in my vision in the past two or three weeks, but I can’t really quantify it yet.


I think I got my hopes up on the potential of this latest cornea transplant. I was hoping that I might be able to do things like read large print or even ride a bicycle or one of those scooters. It would be a little more convenient and right down fun to be able to ride a bike or a scooter. Being able to read some print effectively would have really increased my ability to access information at home and at work. I guess I am destined to be as blind as I am right now, with little or no significant change. I guess I was really hoping and praying for something better. I hope this latest surgery was a good idea.


So, on Wednesday, January 12, I’ll be taking a trip back to Tucson to see the doctor who has treated my eye condition for most of my life. Over the years, my family and I grew to trust his judgment. I’m going for a second opinion, for more information on what is currently happening with my new cornea and for some idea as to what I can expect for the future. Karen has been instrumental in helping me get this appointment set up at such short notice. I thank her for all her work, and hope my sister will be able to drive me the hundred miles each way down to Tucson. If not, then I’m sure I’ll find some other way to get down there.

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