Anchoring the news with keratoconus
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH)– “Do you know what keratoconus is?” an ophthalmologist asked me while closely analyzing my eyes through one of those uncomfortable machines they use at the eye doctor’s office.
It was 2009, I had just turned 30, and I walked into his office thinking it was time for contacts or glasses, I walked out with — what would be — a life-changing diagnosis.
Truth is, I had never heard of keratoconus, let alone knew what it was. All I knew was I had it and — by the look on the ophthalmologist’s face — it wasn’t great. He referred me to a specialist, who confirmed the diagnosis in both eyes.
“Are there really bright lights in the studio?” she asked.
Yes, there are. Very bright lights.
“Do you have to drive in the dark?”
Yes, I do. In TV news, you either leave in the dark (morning shift) or you come home in the dark (night shift), the latter was and is my shift now.
“Keratoconus will is not good for either of those,” she said.
So, what is keratoconus?
According to the National Organization of Rare Disorders, “Keratoconus is an eye (ocular) disorder characterized by progressive thinning and changes in the shape of the cornea. The cornea is the thin, clear outer layer of the eye and is normally dome-shaped. Slowly progressive thinning of the cornea causes a cone-shaped bulge to develop towards the center of the cornea in the areas of greatest thinning. Affected individuals develop blurry or distorted vision, sensitivity to light (photophobia) and additional vision problems. Keratoconus often begins at puberty and most often is seen in teenagers or young adults. The specific underlying cause is not fully understood and most likely the condition results from the interaction of multiple factors including genetic and environmental ones.”
Primary symptoms include:
- Gradually decreasing vision in one or both eyes.
- Double vision when looking with just one eye.
- Objects both near and far look distorted and blurred, even when wearing corrective glasses or contacts.
- Halo and glare around lights in high contrast situations, like streetlights, when driving at night.
Needless to say, keratoconus is not a great condition to have as a news anchor. A major part of the job is to be in front of a camera with shining bright lights while reading the news of the day while the words move on a teleprompter. The worst part about keratoconus is that it’s pretty rare, so there isn’t much funding for research.
“One study from the Netherlands estimated that the annual incidence of keratoconus in people aged 10-40 years was 1:7,500 (13.3 cases per 100,000) and the prevalence in the general population was 1:375 (265 cases per 100,000). Another systematic review and meta-analysis reported that the global prevalence of keratoconus ranged from 3.3 to 2,300 cases per 100,000,” according to keratoconusgroup.org.
Because of the shape of the cornea, wearing glasses or soft contact lenses is not an option, so I have to wear scleral lenses — that require a mini plunger to remove — which are uncomfortable and don’t help much with night vision or lights. But, they get the job done during the day and are better than nothing at all. Life with keratoconus can be difficult and — at times — embarrassing; not being able to drive at night unless it’s a road that I have memorized is not ideal.
I share this story, not for sympathy but to help raise awareness as Nov. 10 is World Keratoconus Day.
Thank God for my wife who has been by my side since I was diagnosed and has helped me along the way, including doing most of the night driving on the rare occasions that we are out after the sun goes down. And to my co-workers here at WISH-TV who sometimes have to go out of their way to accommodate me and my eyes and make sure I can see the prompter and that the lights aren’t right in my eye path.
Big picture: There is a lot worse in the world, and there are definitely a lot people out there living with way more severe health issues than mine. But, everybody is going through something, some things worse than others. All in all, I’m blessed.
As long as my keratoconus doesn’t get worse or a cure is discovered, I’ll catch you on the news.
Bright lights, blurry vision and all.