A sight for sore eyes

April 17, 2009 10:55:35 AM PDT
Impaired vision is a way of life for the thousands of people with corneal disease who cannot wear conventional contact lenses. But now, some remarkable technology available in Houston is bringing sight to these sore eyes. Custom-made contact lenses are allowing the near-blind to see again.

Pamela Cigainero's nightmare begin six years ago when she had an allergic reaction to a medication she was taking. It damaged her corneas, leaving her almost completely blind.

"She couldn't drive, watch TV, read," said Pamela's husband, Tommy Cigainero. "Couldn't hardly do anything."

"It was horrible," said Pamela. "I couldn't do anything. I had no life."

She had to rely on her husband, Tommy, along with family and friends to serve as her eyes.

"I couldn't watch my grandkids at their games, ballgames, wanting me to come watch them," she said. "I couldn't because I couldn't see 'em."

But Pamela's life changed when she found out about some revolutionary lenses that restored her vision almost immediately.

"It's a miracle," she said. "Truly a miracle."

It's called a scleral lens, which means it sits on the sclera, or white part of the eye. In patients with cornea disease, the cornea surface can become distorted and irregular.

"What this lens does, it just masks that irregularity," said Perry Rosenthal, founder and president of the Boston Foundation for Sight. "It just provides an immediate improvement in vision."

Dr. Rosenthal transformed the idea of the original scleral lens into the 'Boston Scleral Lens,' one that can help patients with cornea disease see again.

They're inserted like regular contacts. But these larger lenses are filled with a saline solution that stays on the eye the entire time a patient is wearing them. Some patients keep them in for 15 to 16 hours a day. They have a success rate of about 95 percent.

"I had a patient yesterday who said to his wife, 'Oh my gosh. You have red hair' when I put the lens on because he hadn't seen his wife's hair color in so long," clinical Optomotrist Dr. Anisa Gire

Pamela's results were even more dramatic, from virtual blindness to almost 20/20 vision.

"They have brought my eyesight back to me," said Pamela. "They restored my eyesight and made me reclaim my life.

'Boston Scleral Lenses' are not cheap. they run about $10,000 a pair. But compared to a life of blindness...

"Gosh, it's so worth it," said Pamela. "People need to know. It's just so worth it."

Dr. Gire says the custom-made lenses can last up to 10 years. The Baylor eye clinic is one of three centers in the United States to offer them.

You can learn more about the lenses on the Baylor College of Medicine's website or by calling 713-798-6100.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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