A Change of Plans

Growing up, Gage was known for squinting. Even though he struggled with his vision most of his childhood, he just thought this was how everyone else saw the world. It wasn’t until his sophomore year of high school when he finally decided to see an optometrist. He was prescribed glasses, but they were not helpful in improving his vision. Eventually, Gage gave up on glasses and continued to cope by squinting to see his surroundings.

After graduating high school in the spring of 2018, Gage began excitedly planning a hiking trip with his friend to celebrate their last summer before college. They decided to take the Appalachian trail through New Hampshire and Vermont to see the White Mountains. An avid long-distance hiker, Gage was looking forward to spending a month surrounded by the serenity and beauty of nature.

Part of the plan was for Gage to drive from his home in Cartersville, Georgia, to his friend’s home in Baltimore, Maryland. As he began making final preparations for his trek, Gage’s mother recommended that he get his eyes checked by his optometrist before the long drive. He knew that his eyesight had deteriorated over the last few years, so he agreed to make an appointment.

The optometrist performed a series of tests to determine Gage’s prescription, but the results were inconclusive. His doctor believed that he may have keratoconus and referred him to a corneal specialist for additional testing. After the corneal specialist performed a diagnostic test called a corneal topography to determine if there were any irregularities in the curvature of his cornea, she confirmed that Gage had keratoconus in both his eyes.

“I was scared of what my diagnosis would mean not only for my eyesight, but also my life,” Gage said of learning he had keratoconus. Worried he would have to be driven to and from his college classes in the fall by his mother, he canceled his hiking trip to learn about his treatment options and determine if there was a chance he could combat this disease.

Learning Curve

“I didn’t know what to expect from this disease. Everyone’s broken their arm but not everyone’s corneas have deteriorated. I wasn’t sure where or who to turn to,” Gage admits. Fortunately for him, his corneal specialist was very knowledgeable about keratoconus and the available treatment options.

His corneal specialist informed him of two potential treatment options: wait for the disease to progress and receive a corneal transplant, a surgical procedure that removes damaged corneal tissue and replaces it with healthy donor tissue, or act now and receive corneal cross-linking, a procedure that strengthens the collagen bonds in the eye to halt further deterioration of the cornea.

Wary of the longer recovery time and potential risk of organ failure associated with corneal transplants, Gage decided to undergo corneal cross-linking. However, he and his family were cautious about the cost of receiving the procedure in both eyes. Understanding his family’s concerns, the doctor agreed to perform the procedure pro bono in hopes that the procedure would halt the deterioration of Gage’s sight and help improve his quality-of-life.

Gage’s doctor was an excellent resource and helped educate his entire family about the disease and what to expect during and after the cross-linking procedure. In June of 2018, Gage had cross-linking on his left eye. While everyone’s experience is different, for Gage the procedure and the four hours following it were rather painful and uncomfortable. The next day his vision was still slightly blurry, but he was relatively pain-free. By the second week, the blurriness had subsided.

Since Gage’s left eye responded so well to cross-linking, his doctor agreed to move up the date for his right eye to July 2018. His recovery experience was nearly identical to the first, and he began to once again look forward to attending college in the fall.

A Clean Slate

Since undergoing the procedure, Gage has noticed that he squints less and looks forward to being fitted for hybrid contact lenses in the near future.

Gage was able to start his freshman year on time at University of North Georgia Dahlonega where he is studying business and psychology. With the help of his doctors and corneal cross-linking, he is happy to be living on campus and being able to experience college the way he had always envisioned.  Gage is also looking forward to planning another hiking trip as soon as his schedule allows so he may reunite with nature with a new perspective.

“Without the medical and financial support from my doctor, I don’t know where I would be with my vision or my schooling,” said Gage. “I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to continue my education on time and being able to look towards my future without fear.”

Click here to read more KC Journeys.

The results described on this site are based on data collected regarding short- and intermediate-term efficacy of treatment. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.

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