Groundbreaking procedure helps restore sight

- Karen Gillman spent more than 10 years in and out of eye centers, sitting hours in waiting rooms. "It's very time consuming," she said.

To help correct her vision, she invested in lots of expensive eyewear.

"Since 2004 I've had six pairs of glasses and six pairs of contact lenses. My last pair of glasses were $1,000," she said.

Karen was diagnosed with a rare hereditary disorder called keratoconus. The disease causes a thinning of cornea, the clear layer of cells over the colored portion of the eye. As the layer thins, it bulges forward creating a cone-like protrusion.

Like looking into a fun-house mirror, patients see double, triple images and out of focus.

"Problems would be lack of detail in reading, poor depth perception and worse night vision," said Dr. Bruce Anderson, one of Karen's doctors.

Karen had not been able to drive at night for years. Even with her glasses, her eyes continued to deteriorate.
"One time, I read my daughter's medicine wrong and I gave her the wrong dose. It was a very real moment."

To fix the problem, Karen was facing certain surgery. "The only fix was to work my way through various contact lenses and then plan for cornea transplants," she said.

Then came a breakthrough from a very surprising place.  Karen's husband Mark saw a segment on FOX and Friends. They were discussing an experimental procedure, coupled with surgery, which was restoring the sight in keratoconus patients.

Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler was using a cross linking technique called Holcomb C3R to strengthen collagen, the tiny protein fragments that hold the cornea in place.

"Our success rate with stabilization is 99.3 percent.  Giving people the peace of mind of avoiding a cornea transplant is a huge weight off their shoulders," offered Dr. Boxer Wachler.

Within weeks Karen and Mark were on a plane to Beverly Hills, California where Karen under went three procedures.   Along with the crosslinking, Dr. Boxer Wachler also used tiny crescent-shaped inserts, called INTACS, to help reshape Karen's eyes.  Then he used radiofrequency energy, a procedure called conductive keratoplasty (CK), on her right eye to further reshape the cornea.

After the procedure Karen could read without her glasses. "It is just crazy. I sat up off the table and I never expected to see the results right away."

Karen says her vision continues to improve.

"Now, not having to wear glasses or contacts, it's incredible. It's very freeing. The miracle is available. It has changed my life 100 percent."

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