By: Steven Hooper
Being diagnosed with keratoconus was scary, but I was determined to grow up as a normal kid and to continue staying active and playing sports with keratoconus.
I was in elementary school when I first noticed my vision was changing. I began squinting to see and was constantly getting headaches. Throughout that time, my vision continued to worsen and I was ultimately diagnosed with keratoconus (KC), a degenerative eye disease that causes progressive thinning and bulging of the cornea.
Playing Sports with Keratoconus
When I started playing rugby, I had been knowingly living with keratoconus for a little over a year. In the beginning, I was lucky enough to be able to play without any contact lenses, but soon I had a hard time seeing the ball and eventually couldn’t play without my Rigid Gas Permeable (RGP) lenses. I was also struggling to wear these lenses daily and found them uncomfortable.
Before I knew it, playing sports with keratoconus became impossible, and when I was 15, I had to quit the rugby team altogether. I used to wonder why I was the one with the bad eyesight and had to stop playing a sport that I loved. At this point in my life, I was unsure about my future and scared that I was on my way to becoming blind. Although hard lenses were able to help, there were mornings that I was unable to get my lenses in.
Overcoming the Hardships of Keratoconus
Fast forward 15 years, and I still hadn’t played on a competitive team sport since I quit rugby as a kid. After trying various types of lenses with no success, I received a corneal transplant. Post-surgery, I could be active once again and played pickup football with friends who knew about my keratoconus. But, I always worried about my eye, constantly asking myself, “what if I get hit by the ball?”
I started playing American football because it has the same competitive, team and physical elements of rugby. With an added benefit, I would be able to wear a helmet and protective glasses underneath, something that I couldn’t do before in rugby. Although it may not look cool, I put my vision above vanity. The best part is that my team is completely supportive.
Living an Active Life
Luckily, my keratoconus was diagnosed early, I didn’t let the disease define me growing up. I no longer view my condition as a handicap; it is just part of who I am. It is important to know that keratoconus doesn’t mean you must stop doing what you love, including playing sports, even if it takes you a while to get there.
Over the past 25 years, I’ve learned so much. Here are some tips that helped me to overcome my vision issues and live the best, most active life possible despite having keratoconus:
Listen to advice:
- Follow the advice of your opticians, contact lens specialists and doctors. There are so many treatment options available, that you cannot be disheartened if you struggle finding the right one at first.
- If your goal is to remain active despite your diagnosis, make sure to speak with a specialist to see if there are any treatment options or lenses that will better fit your lifestyle.
Find protection that suits your lifestyle:
- You can never be too cautious when it comes to your eyes. Before stepping onto the field, I knew I had to find a pair of protective glasses or goggles, in addition to using scleral lenses. The protective glasses I use have a headband to hold them in place and cushioned padding around the glass, making them comfortable and ideal for playing any sport.
Never give up:
- When first diagnosed, I never would have thought that at 35 years old I would be able to live a full life doing what I love: music, theatre, cinema, karting, and playing sports with keratoconus. Although everyone has a different KC story, I hope that people who are living with this condition have a positive outlook on life and understand that finding the right corrective treatment for you is worth it.
- Social media is a terrific resource. When I was researching keratoconus, I relied on advice forums that really shined a light on how big the KC community is. These resources are a wonderful way to connect with other people who can relate to what you’re going through and offer tips and advice, based on their personal experiences.
Steven Hooper works as a production manager (office furniture) and is also an actor. He lives in Burnley, a market town in Lancashire, England.