April 10, 2007Going blind is some people's biggest fear -- and the older we get the more likely we are to develop age-related macular degeneration
by Cherie Bank
Those most likely to get it are people with a family history, high blood pressure, smokers and Caucasians -- and up till now there was not a lot doctors could do.
However, for people who develop the wet form of macular degeneration, there is new hope.
Tom O'Connor couldn't figure out what was going on with his vision. "I was terrified. Really scary when that doctor told me what I had, the heart stopped. I went, oh my god I'm going to go blind. I can't go blind. I have all these grandkids. Ha ha."
Grandchildren, children and a wife he treasures, to not be able to see their faces, "Oh he says, you have macular degeneration. I said, 'don't sound good.' He said no, it's worse. You have the wet kind.'"
The wet kind is the most aggressive at robbing your vision. When Tom tried to read, there was a large blank hole in the center of his vision.
Straight lines looked wavy. Blood vessels had started to grow under the center of his retina, the macula. They were leaking fluid and blood, causing that vision loss and distortion.
Had this happened just one year ago, he would've lost his central vision permanently. But a medical breakthrough with the drug Lucentis, is making a world of difference.
"One out of three patients had a significant visual improvement with Lucentis," says Dr. Richard Kaiser, Ophthalmologist. "They were regaining driving, regaining the ability to see faces of people, their ability to work, really their ability to function as a normal individual."
Wills Eye Institute retina specialist Richard Kaiser says for others, vision loss is stopped in its tracks. With Lucentis, and a similar drug, Avastin.
They are drugs injected into the eye. Lucentis and Avastin bind to a substance called VEG-F.
"VEG-F is the culprit for the disease," Dr. Richard Kaiser says. "It's the driving force behind the wet form of the disease. When Lucentis binds to VEGF it inhibits it and stops the progression of the disease. So if we can catch this disease early we can really stop patients from losing vision, and if they have lost vision there's a chance we can actually improve vision."
"I probably had about 20 percent in that eye, my left eye and I probably have 90 percent now. It's amazing isn't it? It's a miracle. It really is."