Ken Hunter, Board Certified Dermatologist, Pacific Grove, CA
“I guess you could say that I took my vision for granted. I had always enjoyed exceptional eye-hand coordination and excelled in sports and outdoor activities. Competitive tennis, golf, bicycling, downhill skiing, hiking, and driving my Porsche on winding roads were all pursuits that I relished.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon on September 9th, 2012. I had attended church and was joining family and friends at the annual Italian Festival at Custom House Plaza. The music was intoxicating, the calamari was delicious, and the wine complimented the occasion. By all accounts, the day was perfect. I went to bed that night with a full stomach and rich memories. Little did I know that my life was suddenly about to change.
I awoke on Monday, September 10th, with the idea that I would go to work and then stop by my girlfriend’s house to have a cold beer and watch the men’s finals at the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament. But something was very wrong when I awoke. A grey veil covered the lower half of my vision in my right eye. There was no pain or any other symptoms. I rubbed my eye to no avail. The grey shadow persisted. “Wow,” I thought. “This is weird.” I shrugged it off and went to work as a Dermatologist and Surgeon. My vision above the veil was still sharp so I could function at work and behind the wheel of my car. The next day was no better.
Alarmed, I called my ophthalmologist, Dr. Ronald Friedman, and was seen on Tuesday, September 11th, an ominous day. Dr. Friedman looked into the back of my right eye and said that the optic nerve appeared pale with attenuated blood vessels. This means retinal blood vessels in the back part of the eye didn’t look normal. He didn’t like what he saw. His first impression was that I might have optic neuritis, which is an inflammation that damages the optic nerve. He sent me to a neurologist for additional evaluation and treatment. There was some concern that I might be having an embolic event, (an obstruction in a blood vessel due to a blood clot), but all the tests were negative.
The neurologist sent me to the infusion center at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula to receive intravenous methylprednisolone. The thought was the steroids would counteract the inflammation in the optic nerve. Despite three days of infusions, the veil not only persisted but began to spread across my entire field of vision. What was going on?
Dr. Friedman referred me to the Stanford Eye Institute where I was seen by a neuro-ophthalmologist. She took one look into the back of my eye and told me that I was suffering from a rare condition called Non-Arteritic, Anterior Ischemic, Optic Neuropathy. Evidently, this condition affects middle-aged men and women equally. Approximately one out of 250,000 people are afflicted and there is no cure. Nevertheless, the doctor recommended sleep studies in case I had sleep apnea which could aggravate my condition. She also recommended hyperbaric oxygen therapy to enhance the oxygen tension in the back of my eye. These two treatments proved to be ineffective. The good news was that I still had 20/20 vision in my left eye. The bad news was that the optic-neuropathy could affect my good eye.
As I feared, my left eye was affected three months later. I was devastated. I had worked and driven my car on a Monday but couldn’t see to drive on Friday. It happened that fast. Everything I had taken for granted was suddenly gone. No more tennis. No more skiing. No more golfing. No more bicycling. No more driving. And most alarming, no more practicing medicine. In just three months, my life had completely changed. There would have to be a new order in my life.
Friends and family referred me to the Blind and Visually Impaired Center of Monterey County. A friendly staffer named Jackie Johnson took my history and discovered that I was a veteran. She referred me to the VA Medical Center at Palo Alto. Jackie also put me in touch with Rena Weaver, the orientation and mobility specialist at the BVIC. Renna came to my apartment to improve my level of functioning in my immediate surroundings. She placed stickers on my microwave, dryer, and washing machine so I could use them safely and effectively. She also gave me my first white cane and showed me how to orient myself in my neighborhood and town. Rena was a godsend! Eventually I traveled to the VA’s Western Blind Rehabilitation Center (WBRC) in Menlo Park where I underwent two months of intensive in-patient rehabilitation and training. Exposure to such areas as Manual Skills, Visual Skills, Living Skills, Orientation and Mobility, and Computer Skills, I was able to function more independently. Since that initial hospitalization, I have returned to the WBRC for additional instruction and education.
My life has taken a new turn. From the practice of medicine, I have become a professional volunteer helping-out at my church, the BVIC, the VA Clinic in Monterey, and at the Carmel Foundation. I serve on three Board of Directors and now feel that my life has purpose. Losing my sight was a terrible experience but finding new purpose has been extremely rewarding. You might say that I’ve developed an entirely new vision towards life…and I love it.”