I am a professional photographer and love working with my hands – everything from carpentry and carving to sculpture, steel and aluminium welding. If it’s a hands-on job, the chances are I love doing it. And I do it pretty well. I also have a number of black belts from a variety of martial arts. All of these interests and skills are heavily vision oriented.
I am originally from South Africa. I left at the age of 17 to go to college and returned a few years later and got married at the age of 22. I still cringe every time I look back at my wedding photos and see my huge bottle-bottom spectacles.
All my life, I wore glasses and had a fairly high prescription with moderate astigmatism. Wearing glasses really bothered me – I had very little peripheral vision, which played havoc with my martial arts. As anyone who wears glasses knows, just try stepping from a hot, humid outdoors into an air-conditioned space. What do you get? Instant fog. And the same the other way around. Hot house into frigid winter air? Instant fog again.
After getting married and then becoming a father a year later, my wife and I decided the US would be new green pastures for us, and off we went. We moved to Baltimore, settled down and started growing our family.
In 2001, I decided that I’d had enough of being chained to glasses. I had tried contact lenses to no avail, and having heard about lasik vision correction, I decided it would be a grand idea to get my eyes “lasered”.
I did a bit of research, and found a doctor who had performed a fair amount of lasik procedures, and paid him an exorbitant sum of money to get “fixed”.
Almost immediately I had close on 20-20 vision and could see the alarm clock in the morning. My peripheral vision appeared out of the blue – I could see blows coming from a mile away in the ring, not that I was any better at stopping them, mind you. And there was no more dreaded fog.
deal existence A few years later, my family moved to Florida. Lovely weather, fishing, photography, and still no cursed fog. What an ideal existence. And as all good things must come to an end, so it did here, and the story changes.
Sometime around 2007, I started having issues with my eyes. I could no longer read wiring diagrams easily or see up close when working on my lathe. An optometerist told me I would need to start wearing glasses again. I started with a fairly weak prescription, but within three months, the prescription changed. Three months later, it had changed again. The same thing two months later.
At this point, my optometrist sent me to one of the best ophthalmologists in Florida, and after about a year of testing, they told me that they really weren’t too sure what was going on, but my eyesight was quite rapidly getting worse.
I tried to reach the doctor who had done my original lasik vision correction, but he had shut his doors, and wasn’t to be found.
By early 2012, I was having such severe vision issues, that there were days I could not recognise my wife from five metres away.
After consulting a number of doctors, I was diagnosed with corneal ectasia which is caused by failed laser vision correction and has identical symptoms to keratoconus. It is not, however, identical to keratoconus, which occurs naturally.
I had just become a statistic. My ectasia was very far advanced, and the doctors recommended that I become a candidate for corneal transplants in both eyes, something I was not going to consider.
I started doing research, and found out about something called corneal cross linking. I called the ophthalmologist in Florida, and they told me it wasn’t approved by the FDA, wasn’t covered by insurance, was very risky as there wasn’t enough of a history on which to draw conclusions to its efficacy, and shouldn’t be done.
I found out that CXL had actually been around for a number of years, having been pioneered in Dresden, with the first human CXL performed in 2003. I looked into going to Germany, but my German leaves very much to be desired.
I considered travelling to Ireland for surgery – after reading about the Wellington Eye Clinic and its use of Sim-LC – but on the advice of my doctors, I opted for having the CXL surgery locally. I was told that not only would my ectasia "cease and desist", but that my vision would also improve.
Unfortunately, this turned out not to be the case. After the procedure, it was six weeks before I could venture outdoors, and even then only with very dark sunglasses. I started feeling normal after about 4½ months.
After about six months, even though the numbers showed a slight improvement in my vision, I could not tell much of a difference in reality. Needless to say, I was
very disappointed. All that pain, and basically no gain.
At this stage, I started doing more research. I was sure that there had to be an answer out there. I got in touch with Dr Arthur Cummings in Dublin. Cummings had pioneered Sim-LC and had seen positive results with his patients. Sim-LC is combining CXL with PRK laser vision correction.
Finding out that he was a fellow South African immediately made me at ease. His staff were so helpful and caring, even over the phone without ever having met me, that I knew, without a doubt, that this was the answer I had been looking for. Plus, they spoke English. And even better, real English. Not American English.
I travelled to Ireland at the end of August 2013. I met Cummings on Thursday morning, and after undergoing a whole battery of tests, they explained in detail exactly what my options were.
They felt that Sim-LC would be the ideal way for me to go, and operated on both eyes that same afternoon.
I was terrified. I remembered the pain I had suffered, just from the CXL. And now, I wasn’t having only CXL; I was also having PRK.
Throughout the surgery, Cummings told me what was going on, what he was doing and constantly reassured me. I felt so much at ease, I even refused the sedative that they offered me prior to the surgery.
I went back to my hotel that Thursday evening. I was in
pain, but nothing compared to the first CXL, and by Friday evening I was feeling so much better that I went out for supper. A few days later, I was out photographing Dublin, and travelled by bus to Glendalough for some sight-seeing. And that was the amazing thing. A few days after the surgery, I was actually seeing the sights.
I left Ireland a week later, and within six months, my vision had improved tremendously.
Before the surgery, I was told that due to the level of my ectasia, I may need a second surgery about a year or so later but it would be at no extra cost. Sure enough, I did.
Earlier this year, I was back for the second surgery. It takes about six months for the corneas to fully stabilise, but I already am seeing better than I have in years.