She had no idea what her daughter was going through. She rushed her to the emergency hospital not knowing what was ailing her. Olivia Eafano, the 15 year old teen-ager at that time, was watching TV when she suddenly went blind.
“Mom, I can’t see!” she called to her mother who was in the adjacent room.
The doctors diagnosed her with uveitis and glaucoma, two potentially dangerous eye diseases. She could get blind.
This is the experience of a young girl who managed to return from the verge of darkness.
“Glaucoma are a group of diseases where there is progressive damage to the optic nerve, which is the pathway that takes vision from the eye back to the brain,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Schultz, director of the glaucoma service at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “It is usually but not always associated with increased pressure in the eye.”
Glaucoma is an eye disease common to old people. The young girl is one of those rare young victims of the disease. The accompanying symptoms include severe headaches, blurred visions, and abnormally large eyes. About two percent of Americans suffer from glaucoma. This is according to the National Eye Health Education Program.
“Many don’t realize they are affected until they lose sight in one of their eyes,” warned Dr. Stephen Foster, the president and CEO of the Massachusetts Eye Research & Surgery Institution and the doctor who cured Eafano.
“People generally lose their peripheral vision first, and then the damage slowly marches centrally,” he said. “It’s often called the ‘sneaky thief’ of vision because many people have no symptoms until it reaches the central vision.”
“At that point, the disease has progressed to a late stage, and the damage is severe and usually irreversible,” he added. “But with early detection and the right treatment, a patient’s sight can be partially or completely restored.”
Dr, Schultz recommends that children should have full eye exams when they reach the age of 2 and every year afterwards. Glaucoma in most cases are inherited. It would be very helpful to know the family history.
The case of Efipanio is unique since only two percent of young people are affected by glaucaoma. What made treatment effective it was still in its early stages. Successive treatments were carried out on her eyes to check the the damage.
She underwent four eye operations and several medications. Now at age 16, she’s so grateful to overcome the dreadful episode. With the aid of her eyeglasses she has managed to acquire a 20/30 vision, not bad for somebody who almost got blind.
The glaucoma experience according to Eafano, has made a lot of difference in her life. She is very grateful for the gift of vision. While in a recent trip to New York, she shared her thoughts what would it be like if she had become blind.
“I wouldn’t be able to see the lights on Broadway or notes on a piece of music — any of the beautiful things I could take for granted,” she said.