With blindness closing in, musician's sight is saved by innovative procedure
Marilyn Cooney, a musician and retired high school English teacher, was visiting her mother-in-law in Las Vegas, Nevada, when her right eye became red and swollen. “It was very uncomfortable,” she recalls. She assumed her cataracts had become irritated by the extreme Vegas heat, or, possibly, a tiny blood vessel had burst.
When she returned to her home in the San Francisco Bay area, she learned her ophthalmologist was on vacation. However, the doctor filling in happened to be the son of one of the three renowned experts in corneal transplant surgery. Because of his familiarity with the work of these highly-esteemed ophthalmologists, he knew Marilyn’s symptoms were in-line with Fuchs’ Corneal Dystrophy (FCD), a rare disorder that slowly leaves a build-up of deposits on the cornea. “My cornea looked like a dirty windshield,” she says, “which explained the night-time glare and cloudy vision I was experiencing.”
In the early stage of FCD, most patients typically have no symptoms. As the disease progresses, the eye swells as tiny blisters surface on the cornea, which can lead to a painful blindness. Other symptoms can include distorted vision, sensitivity to light, difficulty seeing at night and seeing halos around lights.
“I was stunned as he stressed that blindness could begin to occur within a year if I didn’t take action,” Marilyn recalls. She soon discovered there was hope. Her failing vision could be restored. Mark A. Terry, M.D., at Legacy Devers Eye Institute, had developed a partial corneal transplant procedure that restores vision with better results and much faster recovery than previous treatment methods.
The surgery is called DMEK (Descemet Membrane Endothelial Keratoplasty). Dr. Terry was the first in the United States to realize that the success of corneal transplantation could be enhanced by leaving nearly all layers of the cornea in place, and only replacing the innermost, diseased layer.
In October 2016, Marilyn travelled to Portland, Oregon, to see Dr. Terry about a corneal transplant. “Dr. Terry is a warm, easy man to talk to. . . he explained to me exactly what would happen,” she notes. “It would be about a 35-minute procedure. The new tissue would be held in place with a gas bubble – how miraculous! And, he would remove my cataracts at the same time!”
Today, her vision is 20/25 – nearly perfect. “Dr. Terry saved my music career – I’ve been cured of Fuchs’ Corneal Dystrophy,” Marilyn exclaims. “My life is so rich and full! And, my heart is grateful for the gift of sight, which allows me to see everything so clearly and beautifully.”
To honor Dr. Terry and to sustain the success of corneal transplant surgery at Legacy Devers Eye Institute, the Mark A. Terry, M.D. Endowment for Corneal Services
was established in 2013. To make a contribution, click here