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Man with keratoconus eye disease given gift of sight

A man suffering from a serious eye disease is getting his sight back thanks to some generous people who paid for the surgery.
November 21, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A man suffering from a serious eye disease is getting his sight back thanks to some generous people who paid for the surgery.

It'll be an early Thanksgiving for William Fleming. He suffers from a potentially blinding eye disease called keratoconus. One solution would be getting a corneal transplant, but that is very risky. So he searched for an alternative and found a local doctor who has pioneered an innovative treatment.

For the past three years, Fleming's eyesight has been slowly deteriorating.

"It looks like looking thru a dirty window. Everything is blurry. Everything is dotted. Nothing is visible," said Fleming.

After his fiancée, Nina Baca, took him to see numerous eye specialists, they discovered he had keratoconus.

"They were all saying he needed two cornea transplants. I didn't want to go that route because he would be out of work for at least two years," said Baca.

Two years and a 20 percent risk it wouldn't work was too much of a gamble for this couple and their five children.

Keratoconus causes weakening of the collagen fibers of the eye. As a result, the cornea starts bulging uncontrollably. It used to affect one in 2,000 people. Now, doctors say it affects one in 500.

Baca went online to find another solution for William. She discovered a less invasive treatment and the local doctor who pioneered it.

Opthalmologist Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler performed a procedure called Holcomb C3R. It's a non-invasive corneal collagen cross-linking procedure that involves special eye drops and light therapy.

"It's the first time we can non-invasively stop keratoconus from progressing. We have very long track record and we know that as long as patients take good care of themselves, most people can expect just to have a single treatment in their life," said Wachler.

The disease in Fleming's eyes are so severe, he is also getting implantable lenses. Minutes after the procedure, Fleming said he feels like he's getting an early Christmas present.

"I can see the door handle, the garbage, everybody's face. This is great," he said.

There is a risk of irritation and complication for any eye procedure, but so far, Fleming says he's doing great and seeing clearly. The cost of this treatment is, on average, $3,500 per eye.


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