KC in the Family

I was familiar with keratoconus growing up. My mother struggled with the condition for years, using different contact lenses and glasses with little success. Ultimately, she elected to have corneal transplants in both of her eyes to offset the degenerative effects of the disease. Seeing her struggle with lack of effective options to treat her condition had a profound effect on me, but it wouldn’t be until much later that I realized just how much keratoconus impacted her life.

I have experienced vision challenges of my own since childhood. I started using glasses at the age of 8 to correct my near-sightedness. In 2004, I was 17 and during a regularly scheduled check-up, my doctor noticed irregularities in my corneas. Soon after, I was diagnosed with keratoconus in both eyes, with the left eye presenting as more advanced. It was odd. I was not afraid at first. I felt almost a sense of excitement because my mother and I had something in common.

This feeling quickly faded when my symptoms worsened at 18, leading me to realize the gravity of the situation. There was a fair amount of fear and uncertainty for me in the beginning. My classmates at school had no idea what keratoconus was or what I was going through, and I was unsure of how to proceed with managing my condition. While my mother had the same condition, her progression and treatment were completely different than mine and there was little for us to compare. Making matters worse, there were none of the viable, non-intrusive treatments that exist today (such as corneal-cross-linking). I was hesitant to undergo a corneal transplant after watching my mother’s long recovery from the surgeries, so I knew I would have to find another solution.

To start, my doctor fitted me for rigid gas permeable contact (RPG) lenses. For a time, I struggled to find the right “fit” due to my astigmatism, but overall, the lenses did allow me to see more clearly and successfully complete high school and college.

Back to School

I graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and for seven years worked as a Media and Event Coordinator for the largest equestrian competition management company in the nation. While the work was stimulating, the outdoor conditions often involved a lot of sand, dust, dirt, and wind. I had to wear sunglasses constantly, even on overcast days and sometimes take out a lens if it was hurting my eye too much. No matter what, I had to leave one lens in, so I could have a degree of functional vision, otherwise I would not be able to operate a vehicle or see what was a few feet in front of me.

Coupled with the sunlight– which keratoconus patients know can be very irritable– the equestrian arena was not the easiest place for me to work. I knew that type of environment was unsustainable for my long-term eye health and started to wonder what else I could be doing.

I liked my job but kept feeling like my eye health was pointing me to a different path, one where I could help people who also were experiencing health challenges. A discussion with my optometrist cemented this decision– I wanted to go back to school to specialize in ophthalmology, eventually hoping to work with patients directly.

Shortly after, I enrolled at the Duke University School of Medicine, where I graduated with an Ophthalmic Medical Technician certification and earned my Certified Ophthalmic Assistant (COA) status. During my time there I completed nine months of clinical rotations at Duke Eye Center and worked hands-on with keratoconus patients. This was a fantastic experience. Unlike severe advanced retinal diseases that require long-term treatment therapies and often have sub-optimal outcomes, you can see the results of treating keratoconus almost instantaneously. Many people were brought to tears in the clinic when the doctor put new lenses in their eyes, instantly transforming their vision.

As I had hoped, my own diagnosis allowed me to personally connect with patients on a daily basis. Often times, when the patient found out I had the disease and the lenses, it instantly put them at ease. You could sense a little relief, especially as the doctor was explaining the condition and treatment options. Patients fed off my positivity and my presence as a medical professional showed them that a regular person with the disease, at a moderate to severe level, was living a great quality of life right in front of them.

Duke also helped me find an improved solution for my own condition. Through a great physician mentor, I was fitted for a scleral lens in my left, more advanced eye. The scleral lens has changed my world for the better and is absolutely amazing. Compared to my RGP lenses, I was able to find a much easier fit with the scleral lens and it is more comfortable to wear while remaining active.

A New Profession

Following my graduation from Duke, I relocated to Albany, New York, where I am now the Clinical Lead and Assistant Supervisor for a large practice in the area. My current work is much different than my previous career where I had a busy travel schedule working across as many as six states a year. Now, I have a simpler lifestyle with a stable schedule, spending my days managing patient care, office flow, and diagnostic testing for our office.

Overall, my career change has led to a happier day-to-day life, but I am still conscious about properly monitoring my eyesight now that I work on a computer all day. I feel more comfortable with my daily activities, which includes training in Jiu-Jitsu, and I do not worry about the lenses coming out, especially the scleral lens I use on my “worse” eye.

I never thought being diagnosed with keratoconus change my course in life, but in the end, it turned my life in a positive direction. I can honestly say that the condition has been a blessing when it comes to my career. It gave me the foundation of my personal mission – to help others see the world more clearly– not only as a medical professional but as an aide and advocate to those who need it.

I find a great deal of satisfaction in assisting others with their vision care, just as all those doctors helped me as I was searching for a solution. There is a beautiful world out there and it is important that we all get to see it. I am nobody special, but the miracle of sight is, and I would like to share that.

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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