An American bobsledder was going blind; until a major breakthrough being pioneered right here in town saved his life.
"The treatment is surprisingly simple -- vitamins and light. It not only saved his sight, it helped him win the first world championship gold medal - the first American to do so," Dr. Bruce Hensel said.
Steve Holcomb won the bobsledding gold medal at this year's World Championships. Just a few months ago the medal would have been very unlikely. Steve had keratoconus, according to Ophthalmologist Brian Boxer Wachler: "Keratoconus is a disease that affects the cornea which is the outer lens of the eye, and weakens it. And causes it to bulge out uncontrollably."
Steve was slowly going blind.
"Well the vision was like looking underwater, it was too blurry, and you couldn't navigate, you couldn't see where you're going, you can't see anything, you can't do anything... I couldn't see at all. I mean people would make fun of me, they're like, 'oh my vision's bad, I couldn't drive without my contacts.' I couldn't walk without my contacts. I had to wake up in the morning put on my glasses before I could even try to get to the bathroom because it was just too difficult, I'd run into things. And hit stuff and it was a real hassle , and it made it difficult," Holcomb said.
In the past the only answer would have been surgery -- a corneal transplant. Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler told Steve he had another choice; a quick painless procedure in which a vitamin solution is combined with light.
"By itself, the vitamin, riboflavin, a B vitamin, does nothing. But when activated by light of a certain wavelength, it has a major impact on the cornea," Dr. Hensel said.
"The cornea is made of these collagen fibers that are like belt straps, and they're weak," Dr. Wachler said.
The vitamin solution is applied. The light then absorbs, leading to the fibers to swell, strengthen and form cross links.
"The cross linking strengthens up those fibers, so it hold the shape of the cornea so it won't continue to bulge in the future. So what we see at the minimum is that it holds and preserves the vision and a lot of times improve it by giving a little bit of reversal... you can give patients 20/20 or close to 20/20 vision," Dr. Wachler said.
Steve's entire procedure took only 20 minutes
"It was painless, it was quick, it was easy, and we- you know I laid down on the table and he did his work it was quick and I jumped up and sure enough I was there with 20/20 vision, it was incredible," Holcomb said, "Well, we're done" and that was it and I sat up and sure enough I could see better than I've ever seen before."
Well enough to earn America's first gold medal in the event.
"It's amazing to live life with 20/20 vision, its like life in high definition," Holcomb said.
"C3R is still experimental and its not for everyone. If you have trouble with your vision, talk to your doctor about what sort of treatment would be right for you," Dr. Hensel said.
There are a number of doctors who do various treatments for this condition. We do endorse one or the other.
If viewers wish to reach Boxer Wachler they can at 310-860-1900
For more information on all vision problems
American Academy of Ophthalmology