By Jennifer Rowe
My mom, Valerie, has a very independent spirit. Despite living in the United States most of her adult life, she typically exhibits her native British demeanor of maintaining a stiff upper life. In my life, I’ve never seen my mom cry until she began to lose her eyesight due to age-related macular degeneration. The loss of her independence and her ability to do for herself affected her very badly.
Age-related macular degeneration is common, affecting over 20 million older adults in the United States. Since my mom was diagnosed over two years ago, I’ve learned that macular degeneration is a progressive disease that can get worse even if it is being treated. That’s what happened to my mom. Her straight-ahead vision became so blurry and dark that she could not see what was in front of her. She couldn’t see the television, read or spot when the water was boiling at the stove. But what upset her the most was her inability to see her knitting to create detailed, complex garments. She’s been knitting since she was a child and even gave lessons at a local crafts store, so this loss was particularly hard on her.
Despite my mom offering little complaint, I could tell that her macular degeneration was getting worse, even while she was getting regular eye injections, because she would ask me for more help. For example, I would describe what the characters on TV were doing during her favorite programs. I also found myself tidying up behind her because she couldn’t tell that she left a mess in the kitchen even after wiping up a spill. She also couldn’t pour milk into a cup of coffee because she would miss the cup.
I worried about my mom’s vision loss because I work full time out of the house. Once she fell badly, injuring her knee, because she misjudged the height of the step. Certainly, I had to drive her everywhere. I wanted my mom to see her grandchildren, her great grandchildren and everything in the future, so I pushed her to seek out more advice from her ophthalmologist because she was getting depressed and angry about losing her sight.
That’s when we discovered a surgical treatment called the telescope implant. The size of a pea, the telescope implant is placed into one eye to restore straight-ahead, central vision and improve quality of life for people with end-stage (advanced) macular degeneration. The other eye remains “as is” because peripheral vision is lost in the operated eye after the out-patient surgery. When mom was presented with the idea of a telescope put into her eye to help with her eyesight, she was a little reluctant. But I urged her to go-ahead with the surgery because it is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved procedure and it was Medicare eligible. I felt like it was worth trying because any improvement could be beneficial and I promised to support her during the low vision therapy after surgery.
How the telescope works is that it enlarges images seen straight ahead and beams them to undamaged sections of her retina. My mom’s surgeon warned her she wouldn’t emerge from the surgery being able to see like when she was younger. Rather, she needed to heal and then retrain her brain to understand what she was seeing. Several weeks after surgery, she began to work with an occupational therapist who taught her how to use her vision for stationary tasks, like reading and knitting, as well as seeing in motion, like scanning a room or walking to the door. There were a few times during the weeks of recovery that she did get a little upset and mad at herself because she couldn’t figure it out right away. But, I always said, “Mom, it’s okay. It’s a learning process.”
Remarkably, within a few weeks she was able read her newspapers from front to back, every little thing. Thankfully, she is also back to knitting and together we are watching English football on the weekends. Now, she can also read the packaging of food so that she can cook it herself and can make her own cup of coffee, pouring the milk into the mug and not onto the counter. She is able to walk the dog and see where she’s stepping.
It’s a huge relief to both of us that the surgery and training was a success. My mother feels like she has so much to look forward to, particularly this spring when she travels to Florida to visit extended family. We also are planning a trip back to England so that she can visit her favorite places and see old friends. I’m sharing our story because seeking out an alternative treatment for her macular degeneration has had a huge impact on both of our lives. For more information, people can visit www.CentraSight.com or www.AMDAffectsMe.com