When I was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, I was amazed. Like most people, I assumed cirrhosis was alcohol-related and I was never a big drinker. I enjoyed a few pints at the weekend, but that was it.
However, the fact that when I was a child I had had severe jaundice that may have hardened my liver meant I was at a higher risk than other people of cirrhosis. Another person might drink two or three times what I drank and never develop cirrhosis, which is a complication of liver disease that involves the loss of liver cells and irreversible scarring of the liver.
I had been sick with flu-like symptoms for about two years before I was eventually diagnosed. I was working as a veterinary supplies rep at the time and my last call before I retired due to my illness was to a pharmacy.
I can remember being so cold and tired that I couldn’t get out of the car. I went to my GP, ended up in Mayo General Hospital and was sent from there to St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin.
I was put on treatment to prevent or delay further liver damage and there was a period of waiting to see if the treatment would work. When I started to go downhill, I was put on the transplant list and, luckily enough, because things were bad, a liver became available after only five months.
I had the transplant surgery on a Saturday in September 2005 and the following day, I was sitting up in bed watching Kerry and Tyrone playing the All-Ireland final. The day after that, they got me out of bed. When I looked in the bathroom mirror I couldn’t believe the change. My skin and eyes, which had been yellow because of the cirrhosis, looked normal again.
I had to pack up the drink for over a year during my treatment and I never went back on it, apart from the very odd glass of wine. Even though I was not a big drinker, my consultant pointed out that a few pints a week over 30 years adds up to a lot of alcohol.
Like many people, I became very health- conscious after my illness. I went to my optician for a routine two-yearly examination. My sight was not as good as it had been and I thought I needed stronger glasses. The optician said he thought I might have macular degeneration which, of course, I had never heard of. He referred me to my GP, who diagnosed age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that can affect your eyes as you get older. It affects the macula, a small part of the eye responsible for central vision.
My GP referred me to Dr Richard Comer, a consultant opthalmic surgeon at the Bon Secours Hospital in Galway, who explained that there were two types of AMD: dry and wet. He told me I had the dry form in both eyes. There is no treatment for the dry form, but he prescribed special supplements to help protect my eyes. Then I developed a cataract in my left eye that was affecting my peripheral vision and I had to have that removed.
I then developed the wet form of AMD in my left eye. I still have the dry form in my right eye. Dr Comer prescribed injections of a prescription medication into my left eye to treat the wet AMD. I had eight injections so far last year and four this year.
He told me that this treatment would at best improve my eyesight and at worst maintain the sight I have and prevent it getting any worse. Initially, I noticed a big improvement in my sight, then it deteriorated a bit and now it seems to be holding at the same level. So far my consultant is very happy with the treatment and so am I.
I’m a huge football fan, particularly of Mayo football, so the fact that I can still drive is a big deal for me. Sometimes at a football match, I might need to wear a peaked cap to prevent glare and if I’m driving long distances, I have to wear tinted glasses. If my AMD had not been diagnosed and treated at an early stage, things might have been very different for me.
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Age-related macular degeneration What is it?
AMD is the leading cause of blindness for people over the age of 50 in Ireland, with more than 7,000 new cases every year.
The main symptoms of AMD are slightly blurred vision, wavy lines or a blind spot in the centre of the field of vision.
There are two types of AMD, dry and wet. Dry AMD is the most common form of the condition and develops slowly, eventually leading to loss of central vision. There are currently no proven treatments for dry AMD. Wet AMD is caused by leaky blood vessels inside the eye and is less common than dry AMD, but it can cause more rapid loss of vision.
While wet AMD can develop quickly, in the majority of cases – if diagnosed and treated early – vision can be maintained and some people may even see an improvement in their eyesight.
The recently launched Begin Your New Chapter campaign for AMD Awareness 2014 highlights how AMD can affect a person's ability to read and is encouraging people to protect their eyesight with regular eye tests.
People are urged to get tested and get more information on amd.ie
The National Council for the Blind of Ireland (CBI, the national sight loss organisation), Fighting Blindness, the Irish College of Ophthalmologists and the Association of Optometrists Ireland, supported by Novartis, have developed this awareness campaign to help prevent further sight loss in Ireland.