Arnold “Alex” Luessi, 80, of Greendale, has a colorful life story that spans time and geographical boundaries, including immigrating to the U.S. from Switzerland in 1952 onboard the Queen Elizabeth. Recently, however, his ability to review pictures of past adventures has been threatened by age-related eye disorders.
In 2003, Luessi was referred to Dr. Mark Freedman, an ophthalmologist at Eye Care Specialists’ West Allis and Mayfair offices. Fortunately, his failing vision was easily treatable. Luessi was diagnosed with cataracts, a clouding of the lens inside the eye. “After my first cataract (removal) surgery I was able to look with new eyes (prescription lens implants) and everything was beautiful. When Dr. Freedman took care of my second cataract, I was like a newborn baby seeing the world—everything was perfect.”
After his surgeries, Luessi and his wife of 55 years, Kaethe, who he met while stationed in Germany at the start of a lifetime US Army career, continued to visit Freedman for routine eye exams. Everything was fine until one day in 2008 when Luessi recalls, “I was sitting at lunch and looking across the room, and I told my wife that something was wrong with my eyes—straight lines appeared crooked to me. I immediately saw my doctor, who had me read an eye chart. I couldn’t see any of the letters with my left eye. So, he sent me over to Dr. Freedman.” Unfortunately, this time, Dr. Freedman had to deliver the disappointing diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
“AMD is a condition in which the macula, a sensitive area of the retina responsible for central and detail vision, is damaged. There are two forms of AMD. Both cause loss of central or straight-ahead vision (as needed for driving a car, reading fine print and recognizing faces) but, fortunately, not side vision. ‘Dry’ AMD is more common (90% of cases), progresses slowly, and is caused by a thinning of macular tissue. ‘Wet’ AMD is rarer, can progress quickly, and is marked by the growth of new abnormal blood vessels under the macula, which can leak fluid and blood. This leakage can create scar tissue which causes blind spots and profound loss of sharp central vision,” explains Daniel Ferguson, MD, a partner at Eye Care Specialists, where thousands of AMD patients are diagnosed and treated each year.
AMD had caused Luessi’s vision to deteriorate from 20/25 to only being able to count fingers (legal blindness) in his left eye. There was hope however.
“Studies have shown that some patients with wet AMD benefit from monthly ocular (into the eye) injections of medications like Avastin. These drugs inhibit the growth of the abnormal blood vessels that cause AMD as well as treat swelling of the macula,” explains Freedman. “In our own practice, we have had great results with Avastin, with about 90 percent of patients experiencing stabilization and up to 30 percent actually seeing improvement in vision.”
“I told (Dr. Freedman) ‘anything you can do for me, I’m in.’ I gave him my trust and he started giving me the shots, and once again I had 20/20 vision! Everything was beautiful again.”
“AMD is the leading cause of severe central vision loss in Americans over 50. A few years ago, we couldn't do much for these patients,” observes Dr. Brett Rhode, Head of Ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center and partner at Eye Care Specialists. “With the new Avastin injections, however, our goal is to prevent further sight loss. And, although there are no guarantees, many patients experience a decrease in blood vessel leakage that makes it possible to not only stop the progression of wet AMD, but, in some cases, even regain vision. That’s why my partners and I are so excited. This treatment is the breakthrough doctors and patients have hoped for.” Rhode adds, “Avastin is also being successfully used to treat diabetes-related eye disease.”
Avastin injections every few months have enabled Luessi to maintain good vision in his left eye. Recently, however, he explains, “My wife and I went out for our usual shopping trip, and I was having trouble seeing the traffic light. Instead of going shopping that day, we went to see Dr. Freedman, and he helped me out again.” Swelling had reduced Luessi’s vision to 20/100. Following another injection, his vision improved to 20/40 (the legal limit for being able to drive). “I’m very thankful,” says Luessi.
By recognizing problems, acting promptly, and working together with his doctors, Luessi has been able to protect his vision and enjoy activities like writing and spending time with his wife and two sons (a civil engineer in Muskego and an architect in Zurich, Switzerland) and their families. Luessi’s wife comments, “I tell Dr. Freedman that because of him, Alex can see his (four) grandchildren and (two) great-grandchildren.” “It makes me so happy!” exclaims Luessi.
Protect your eyes
“Sight-robbing conditions like AMD, diabetes and glaucoma often develop first in one eye without affecting vision or showing early warning signs,” explains Dr. Norman Cohen, co-founder of Eye Care Specialists. Fellow co-founder Dr. Robert Sucher recommends the following steps to preserve vision:
1. People age 40-64 should have a thorough dilated eye exam every 2-4 years and every 1-2 years after age 65 to check for AMD and other diseases. The exam may include an OCT laser scan and an Amsler Grid test (a checkerboard pattern used to detect vision distortion and loss).
2. If you notice a problem with your vision (especially straight lines appearing wavy or blind or dark spots) don’t ignore it. Call your eye care specialist immediately to see if you should be examined.
3. Wear sunglasses. UV-light exposure has been linked to AMD and cataracts.
4. Ask your eye specialist for guidelines regarding vision-related supplement intake.
Call 414-321-7035 for a free AMD booklet. Or, visit www.eyecarespecialists.net and go to the “Eye Disorders” pull-down menu for insights into AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes and dry eyes.