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She came to see again – A keratoconus story

This article about a patient with keratoconus was in the Concord Monitor Newspaper:

She came to see again

By SARAH LIEBOWITZ, Monitor staff, September 11. 2006 at 8:00AM

Near-blindness forced Ndo for Claire, 13, to leave school. In her native Cameroon, Africa, she held books inches from her face, straining to read. Without a corneal transplant, her local doctor said, Claire would go blind.

In Concord, Claire found her sight.

Two weeks ago, a local ophthalmologist transplanted a donated cornea into one of Claire’s diseased eyes. The procedure – which Erin Fogel, a doctor at the Eye Center of Concord, performed free of charge -will allow Claire to wear glasses, restoring her sight. The transplant took place at Concord Hospital, which donated its services.

Claire’s left eye will take time to heal. “But when the days pass, it becomes clearer and clearer,” she said.

Claire’s path to Concord began with a Cameroonian doctor.

She suffers from keratoconus, which causes a distortion or thinning of the cornea. Last year, her sight deteriorated rapidly. Her local ophthalmologist contacted Munro Proctor, a retired Concord doctor who has made numerous trips to Cameroon to provide medical assistance, Fogel said. Leaving the country was Claire’s only chance, Fogel added: There are no corneal surgeons in Cameroon.

Proctor asked Fogel to donate her services. Concord Hospital provided an anesthesiologist and a surgical room, free of charge. Tissue Banks International, a nonprofit network of eye and tissue banks, donated the cornea. Claire’s family organized the trip to Concord, sending Claire first to Baltimore, where she stayed with family friends, and then to New Hampshire.

Claire “is very sweet and very good and has been grateful at every step,” Fogel said. “She told me she wasn’t scared, and I didn’t believe her. But I think she may not have been.”

Keratoconus usually strikes in late adolescence or early adulthood, Fogel said. Often, glasses or contact lenses can rectify the disease. Claire – who has the disease in both eyes – suffers from a particularly severe case, and she could need another transplant on her right eye.

The transplant was the first one that Fogel has donated. It likely won’t be the last. “I always had plans, not so much to bring patients here, but to go somewhere to do eye care in a Third World country. And that will happen,” she said.

To hear Claire tell it, the surgery didn’t faze her one bit. “I didn’t even know they were doing something,” she said. “I was happy to see again.”

In the meantime, the surgery has afforded Claire a lengthy visit to the United States, and, by extension, her first glimpse at MTV, super-sized grocery stores and late-summer leaves beginning to change hue. In New Hampshire, where Claire will remain for two more weeks, she fell in love with pizza, mashed potatoes and Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate. She learned she doesn’t like oatmeal and put the English she learned in school to use. Last week, she took her first boat ride.

The trip has seemed so vacation-like that Claire isn’t ready to fly home. “I’d like to stay,” she said, shyly. Claire has lived with a host family in the Concord area. (Family members didn’t want their names included in this story because they don’t want the recognition.) Mary Peteh, a native of Cameroon who lives in Baltimore and is a friend of Claire’s family, accompanied Claire to New Hampshire. When Claire leaves the state, she’ll head to Baltimore with Peteh.

Two months later, she is due to return to Bamenda, a city near Cameroon’s western border, where her father is a math teacher and her mother works as a nurse. She’ll see her ophthalmologist, who will remove the remaining sutures holding Claire’s new cornea to her eye. She’ll trade mashed potatoes for rice and local fruits. And she will return to school, with the hopes of one day attending a university.

But Friday afternoon, Cameroon seemed a long way off. Claire and Peteh were headed for a distinctly American destination: the mall.

This story discusses one person’s treatment of keratoconus.In many cases a corneal transplant is not necessary and there are other options that can help treat and improve the possible symptoms of keratoconus. If you have been diagnosed with keratoconus and/or suspect that you might have keratoconus, we recommend that you meet with a corneal specialist to determine what is the best treatment for you.