Arnold “Alex” Luessi, 80, has a colorful life story that spans time and geographical boundaries, including immigration to the United States from Switzerland in 1952 onboard the Queen Elizabeth. But, more recently, his ability to reflect on pictures of past adventures was threatened by two increasingly common eye disorders.
In 2003, Luessi’s family doctor recommended that he see Dr. Mark Freedman, a partner at Eye Care Specialists ophthalmology practice in Milwaukee. Fortunately for Luessi, his condition was easily treatable. He was diagnosed with cataracts, a clouding of the natural lens of the eye. Luessi was scheduled for cataract removal with prescription lens implantation to restore his vision. “After my first cataract surgery I was able to look with new eyes 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 straightahead 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.”
“Dr. Freedman is a great doctor, I told him ‘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. Although the goal of treatment is to prevent further sight loss and there are no guarantees, many patients, like Mr. Luessi, experience a decrease in blood vessel leakage to the point that the macula can recover,” observes Dr. Brett Rhode, Head of Ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center and partner at Eye Care Specialists. “A few years ago, we couldn’t do much for AMD patients. Avastin injections have made it possible to not only stop the progression of wet AMD, but have even helped some patients regain vision. That’s why my partners and I are so excited. This treatment is the breakthrough doctors and patients have hoped for.”
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. “A professional eye exam is the only way to accurately detect eye conditions.” Fellow co-founder Dr. Robert Sucher recommends the following steps to protect your vision:
- 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 any other eye diseases. Part of that exam may include an OCT laser scan and an Amsler Grid test (a checkerboard pattern used to detect distortion of lines and dark or missing spots in vision).
- 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 come in for an examination.
- Wear sunglasses. Prolonged or frequent UV-light exposure may be a factor in developing AMD and cataracts.
- Evaluate your supplement intake. Ask your eye specialist for guidelines or call 414-321- 7035 for free handouts.
Free educational booklets & information
Eye Care Specialists’ doctors are dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of AMD, glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and cataracts, and have written their own series of booklets on these conditions. Call 414-321-7035 for FREE copies or to schedule an appointment for a thorough eye screening (usually covered by insurance or Medicare) at their offices in West Allis, downtown Milwaukee, and the Mayfair area. They can also be found at www.eyecarespecialists.net.