Vision Month: Three stories that could be any of us

As part of Vision Health Month, Dr. James Lawrence of River Valley Eye Care is reminding Battlefords residents to book a comprehensive eye exam with their optometrist as it could actually help save their life by detecting an underlying health condition.

This installment of Everybody Has a Story looks at three instances in which a visit to an eye doctor resulted in the detection of a life-threatening health condition.

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Hubert Fisher is a patient of Dr. Lawrence and, at 57 years of age, he was advised to see his MD for a cardiovascular workup based on concerns at the eye exam and retinal vasculature evaluation. He took his optometrist’s advice and saw his MD. Shortly after he was admitted for cardiac surgery due to an imminent heart attack.

Alana Levigne, 27, recently went in to see Dr. Philip Laforge of River Valley Eye Care because she was experiencing blurred vision and seeing spots, so she wondered if she needed glasses. Levigne had swollen optic nerves at her eye examination and retinal evaluation. She was referred and treated immediately with a shunt for relieving excess fluid pressure on the brain.

Mary Ann Gartner was advised to undergo blood sugar testing following an eye exam and retinal evaluation. She was confirmed an out of control diabetic and treated immediately. Her condition may not have been treated in a timely fashion should she have not gone in to see her optometrist. Diabetes is becoming a huge concern in our population, and it is important to note that diabetics get an annual eye examination covered by health care.

Their stories:

Hubert Fisher, a long-time resident of the Battlefords, says he is doing a little better now but still having some problems. He continues to need procedures to improve his outcome.

"I'll be going steady for the next little while," he says.

Fisher says he saw Dr. Lawrence a year ago in January. He had booked an appointment to get his glasses changed.

"He checked my eyes over and he told me, 'You've got bursting blood vessels in your eyes. That could be a sign of a pending heart attack."

Dr. Lawrence told him, "You better see your doctor, my friend."

Fisher says, "I thought about it for a couple of days and then I went into the doctor and he said, sure enough, I was heading for a massive heart attack."

By March 17, he was having surgery.

"They put in a new valve, did a bypass and three stents."

Fisher says there have been further procedures because, "they think I might have a bleeder in there because I still have a hard time breathing."

There is pressure on his lungs, he says, and he's retaining fluid.

"I haven't worked in over a year," he says. "I haven't been able to do anything, I can't get enough breath to do anything."

Still, Fisher is thankful to be alive, all because he went to see Dr. Lawrence to be checked for new glasses.

"I went back to his office about six months later and told him," says Fisher. "I never thought you could predict that by looking into somebody's eyes but apparently you can."

Fisher advises people to put faith in their eye doctor.

If they tell you to go to the doctor to get checked, go to the doctor to get checked … If he says anything to me again, I will go right away. I'll never doubt again."

Alana Levigne agrees.

"I went into the eye doctor because I had black blobs floating in my eyes, and they sent me to a specialist who diagnosed me with optic neuritis, and they sent me to another specialist to do a spinal tap and I was also diagnosed with IIH, idiopathic intracranial hypertension. There was too much fluid around my brain and that was causing me to lose my eyesight."

It was all a shock to Levigne.

"I actually wish I had been going to an eye doctor on a regular basis. The last time I had seen an eye specialist was four years prior."

In order to relieve the pressure around her brain, a shunt was inserted.

"It's still in there," says Levigne.

She explains such shunts commonly do need replacement or get blocked by tissue, or just stop working, so she expects more procedures.

"With IIH, there's no cure," says Levigne. "It's just a temporary fix, with the shunt and medication."

She adds, "My health is up and down and I still get really bad migraines and the light still bugs me."

She says it is hard to get up some days.

"I have three kids and it's hard to deal with that," she says. "It got so bad I made my husband go out and buy thick dark curtains for our living room."

But Levigne is looking forward to better days.

"I'm slowly starting to see improvement. All my vision is finally back," she says. "I went driving, my first road trip yesterday, driving myself, and I felt great."

Levigne believes her experience can be a lesson for others.

"I definitely push for people to go and get their eyes checked by the doctor."

She says there's no cure for what she has and they couldn't have prevented it from happening, but she maintains her eyes would have been less damaged if she had gone to the eye doctor sooner.

Mary Ann Gartner, whose visit to the eye doctor led to her diagnosis of diabetes, says, "If I have any advice, please listen to your eye doctor and follow his advice."

Gartner had found her eyes were changing a lot and during a visit to Dr. Lawrence about three years ago, he told her, "I think you should get your blood checked. I think you have diabetes."

Gartner says he could tell by the blood vessels behind her eyes.

"I never felt a thing."

At a subsequent visit to her family physician, she brought it up.

"Dr. Lawrence had already warned me, and I'd started drinking a lot of water. I was always thirsty, thirst, thirsty, I figured it was something."

She says, "I was there for a regular checkup and mentioned to my doctor that my eye doctor figured I was a diabetic."

She was tested and her doctor informed her she had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

"At first it was so bad he thought he would have to put me on insulin, but between the pills that my family doctor put me on and me watching and having smaller meals four times a day I had it regulated within a month. I have been keeping it pretty stable since I have been diagnosed."

Now, she recommends everyone go to the eye doctor regularly and she goes annually.

"Once a year I go to have my eyes checked because they say with diabetes your eyes do change, but since I have had my diagnosis, thanks to him, and getting it corrected immediately, my eyes have changed very little, not even enough to get new glasses."

It is clear a comprehensive eye exam can do more than test your vision. It could help save your life. Dr. Lawrence is urging Battlefords residents to make eye exams part of their preventative health care routines.

Comprehensive eye exams can serve as early detectors for a number of potentially serious health conditions, ranging from diabetes and high blood pressure to certain forms of cancer, says Dr. Lawrence.

Studies show that among Canadians who don't have regular eye exams, more than half chose to skip a visit with their optometrist because they believed they had good vision. This is despite the fact that, even with good vision, eye exams can help detect eye diseases and underlying conditions that may show signs in the eyes including brain tumours, aneurysms, autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, sickle cell disease, liver disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological or brain disorders.

A comprehensive eye exam does much more than test your vision, it is an important part of maintaining your overall health, says Dr. Lawrence.

Comprehensive eye exams provide optometrists a close-up look at your blood vessels, your optic nerves and many other complex eye structures, all of which may contain clues to conditions that could pose a serious risk to your health.

Brain tumours, for example, can cause loss of peripheral vision or can damage the nerves that control eye muscle function, resulting in symptoms such as abnormal eye movements or double vision, says Dr. Lawrence. During an exam, your doctor of optometry would examine the optic nerves, and test peripheral vision and eye muscle function, which can often be the first sign of a brain tumour.

The exams conducted by a doctor of optometry are much more than a sight test or screening test, which only measure how well you see. A comprehensive eye exam looks at the overall health of your visual system, and helps to identify underlying health conditions that can show early signs in the eyes.

Think of it as a physical for your eyes, says Dr. Lawrence. Through a series of tests and procedures, optometrists can help detect conditions before other physical effects are noticed, allowing them to work closely with other primary health care providers to improve patient outcomes.

Given the potential of an eye exam to protect, not just your vision, but your overall health, routine exams are recommended for people of all ages. The Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists recommends adults have an eye exam every two years, and annually for those over 65. Children should have their first exam between six and nine months, their second eye exam between the ages of two and five and annually after starting school. 

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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