Article Date: 4/1/2001

reflections: THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
15 Minutes of Fame

Catching a little boy's sight-threatening condition thrust this O.D. into the limelight.

BY PAUL ZERBINOPOULOS, O.D., F.A.A.O.

After spending a night at the Essex Hotel overlooking scenic Central Park in New York, a limousine took the five of us to the NBC studio where "The Today Show" is filmed. By the five of us I mean me, my wife, our 3-month-old son, 9-year-old Brett and his mom. I met Brett and his mother through the American Optometric Association (AOA) Vision In Service In Our Nation (VISION) USA program. At the time, I realized the importance of participating in the program, but I had no idea it would lead to an appearance on a national TV show. Here's how it all started.

From the beginning . . .

Several years ago, I treated Brett through VISION USA. Actually, "Save Your Vision Week," as it was then called, was a needed shot in the arm to help provide medical care for struggling families.

At the time of our first encounter, Brett's mother told me he'd never been examined by an eye doctor. I suggested that they take advantage of the program, so I examined him.

The unexpected finding

Brett was 20/20 uncorrected in each eye -- a virtual emmetrope. But I was troubled by what the dilated fundus examination of his right eye revealed. Binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy revealed a whitish, elevated area of retina beginning at the temporal aspect of the inferior arcade and extending to the ora serrata where there was a crescent-shaped break. Brett appeared to have an inferotemporal retinal detachment in his right eye, encroaching on the macula. He had no history of ocular contusion, and he hadn't experienced a concussion.

Identifying and solving the problem

It turned out that Brett was born with a retinal dialysis -- a congenital break at the ora serrata. Trying to put a positive spin on Brett's retinal detachment to his uninsured mother was difficult. Fortunately, his central vision was intact, and I was able to get the help of a gracious retinal specialist who then enlisted an anesthesiologist (both of whom donated their services to VISION USA). The scleral buckling procedure and endolaser treatment were successful.

Spreading the news

The Rhode Island state chairperson of VISION USA forwarded news of the unusual circumstances to the national program director. The following year, Brett's mom agreed to appear on "The Today Show" to spread word of the program nationally so others could benefit.

We were all a bit apprehensive while waiting in the green room, but Katie Couric, Matt Lauer and the entire "Today Show" staff put us at ease. Katie held my son and swapped baby stories with my wife. She was so down to earth and genuinely friendly that the interview went off without a hitch. Brett's mother described the circumstances leading to the discovery of his retinal detachment and subsequent treatment. Judging by the enormous caller volume to the VISION USA operators after the show, I'd say the interview was a hit.

A charitable cause

We were satisfied knowing that we'd done our best to get the word to the public about the existence of this valuable program. Children shouldn't have to go without eyeglasses -- let alone an undetected, sight-threatening condition -- because their families can't afford medical insurance or don't qualify for medical assistance. To find out more about VISION USA, call the AOA at (800) 365-2219 x261.

DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? Contact Larisa Hubbs at hubbsla@boucher1.com, so we can talk about getting your story published.


Optometric Management, Issue: April 2001