Glasses and a pencil on an old book, on wood background.

Cataracts and Glaucoma – They're Not Just for the Elderly

When people think of cataracts and glaucoma, they generally think of elderly people. It’s true that age does greatly increase your chances of developing these and other eye conditions. Yet, that creates a misconception that leads to others. Even advertisements about cataracts and glaucoma medications are geared towards elderly people. What most people don’t realize is – young people get these conditions too!

In 1991, I was only 4 years old and would scream every time I went into the sunlight. My mother, who was only 24 and a single mother, was told by doctors at the Pediatric Eye Department of the University of Iowa Hospital that the cause was congenital cataracts that were magnifying the light onto my retinas and causing immense pain. Doctors informed her that the cataracts had been developing from the time I was 2 and were hereditary from my father – who also had cataracts as a young child. At the time, cataract surgery was still experimental on children as it was usually caught in infancy or later on in life. So the lead doctor of the Pediatric Eye Department made my mother swear that she would take me to no other eye doctors for eye checkups before he would agree to do this surgery on me.

Unlike now, the only option available at the time was to remove the lens, the sac it sat in, and the tissues that hold the lens in place and either contract or stretch the lens as the eye focuses. Everything in that chamber was removed in each eye and left empty. This means that there is no way to put an artificial lens in, even as an adult. Times have changed a lot since then as medical technology has made it possible for children to receive a new lens, but no options exist for me and I’ve lived with very thick glasses and contacts ever since.

Phoenix, the author, as a child.

For anyone who wears contact lenses, you know how uncomfortable they can be. When I was 5 years old, I spent hours at the U of I Contact Lens Department learning how to put them in, take them out, and take care of them. A huge responsibility for a child so small. Yet I couldn’t wear them every day due to discomfort and my astigmatism- which is vertical rather than the usual horizontal. As you can imagine, having such thick glasses that greatly magnify your eyes led to a lot of bullying.

There was the usual “four eyes,” “freak,” “nerd,” and other worse comments. Then there was the fact that my complications resulted in me sitting in the front row and being placed in special education and one-on-one tutoring. I also had to wear a visor in class to protect my eyes from the bright fluorescent lights. Plus, my mother and I moved frequently either due to a new lover or a new job in her life, which made making and keeping friends very difficult. Luckily, I did have one friend at a few of the schools that protected me. To them I will always be grateful, for seeing the real me and for keeping the bullying from getting too physical.

Yet I still grew up with low self-esteem due to feeling ugly with my thick glasses. Despite a few people in my life now who prefer me with glasses, it’s still something that I struggle with constantly. At age 10 I also developed open-angle glaucoma and learned how to take drops every night to lower my eye pressure. If people do actually know what glaucoma is, they at first don’t believe that someone so young could have it, just like with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia.

Then there’s the people that make assumptions about my mental capabilities because of my thick glasses. Yes, even as an adult this is a huge problem – especially when my RA and fibro pain and fatigue become so bad that I need to use my walker or wheelchair. People often talk slower around me or repeat things they say multiple times as though my blindness prevents me from comprehension (despite the fact that I earned a master’s degree with a 3.92 GPA). Think of how people typically talk to young children and you’ll get the idea. I especially noticed this around a few doctors. Either they talked down to me or would speak to my wife instead about my treatments as though I’m not right there next to her.

So one day I did an experiment with my rheumatologist. I didn’t have contacts at this time due to insurance and my inability to afford them out of pocket. So I took off my glasses before my rheumatologist entered the room. I was mostly blind, but able to see vague shapes and thus able to pretend that I was able to see. Sure enough, her whole demeanor changed and she spoke to me as she would toward any adult. I don’t think she even noticed.

Another example is when my wife and I shopped for Halloween costumes at one of those shops that’s only open during October. Again, I didn’t have contact lenses yet and my wife was pushing me in my wheelchair when a saleswoman approached us. Rather than addressing me directly, she said to my wife something along the lines of, “Are you interested in finding a costume for [them]?” as though I was nothing more than a pet. She jumped a good few inches and her mouth opened in shock when I spoke up and said, “Actually yes, I am looking for a costume.” The saleswoman didn’t even apologize for her assumptions. We ended up not buying anything there and have refused to go back. This kind of treatment is a regular occurrence in my life if they see me with my glasses and some people will outright stare.

Now I have a 6 year old son that is developing cataracts. Yet, when he eventually does need surgery he won’t have to go through the things that I have. Technology has advanced so much that they’ll be able to replace his lenses with new ones and he won’t have to endure having thick glasses like I have or the ridicule that comes with them. If for some reason that option doesn’t work and he does need thick glasses, I want him to know that thick glasses do not define his worth. I also long for the day when cataracts, glaucoma, and arthritic conditions are no longer viewed as things that only elderly people experience.

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Thinkstock Image By: yanyong


prosthetic eye

6 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Getting My Prosthetic Eye

My sister and I were born at 27 weeks. As a result I developed retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) which left me blind in my left eye and with low vision in my right eye.

Not long before I turned 21, my left eye started playing up. It became extremely painful, so I went to the doctor. After a lot of drama (another story!) I was diagnosed with glaucoma. Initially attempts were made to treat it with eye drops, however, the pressure in my eye kept climbing, to the point where my eye was essentially ready to “pop.” It was at this point my doctor recommended removal was the best option.

I distinctly remember sitting in the doctor’s office after he suggested removal. He continued talking about what the process would involve. Thankfully my parents were there because I wasn’t listening. I was thinking about “Pirates of the Caribbean” — specifically about the pirate with the false eye that constantly pops out and rolls away. I had a beautiful future ahead of me .

That was the only point of reference I had for what a “fake” eye was like. There are a number of things I wish I had known then about prosthetic eyes that I know now.

1. Prosthetic eyes are not round. This means (sadly) they do not roll away. Prosthetic eyes are more of a concave shape, and the shape is slightly different for each person. I often describe them as being like a giant contact lens.

2. You don’t get a prosthetic straight away. After surgery you have to wait for the swelling in your eye socket to go down, which can take a few weeks. After that you will go to an ocularist who will start working on your prosthesis.

3. You will spend a lot of time gazing deeply into your ocularist’s eyes. It’s awkward.

4. You may have a few failed eyes before you get the right one. I have a small collection of failed eyes I keep in my jewelry box. There are absolutely useless, and I would never wear them, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. They are like my little Frankenstein’s monsters that didn’t quite make it.

5. “Eye boogies.” An unfortunate side effect. Your eye socket registers the prosthesis as a foreign body which it then attempts to “flush” out. This will cause “eye boogies,” which in the process of trying to remove, results in me ripping out what feels like hundreds of eye lashes a day. Thanks, eye socket.

6. Your eye may go missing at inconvenient times. The amount of times I have been about to leave for work only to realize I don’t have my eye in and that I don’t know where it is… Often I discover it lurking in the depths of my bed.

Overall what I have learned is prosthetic eyes are nowhere near as scary as they initially seem. In fact, for me at least, having a prosthetic eye has made life just that little bit more amusing!

How My Son’s Glaucoma Doctor Gave Me Confidence as a Mom

This Mother’s Day, like many others, I think back to the day I became a mom. The first snow of the season was lightly falling outside as the obstetrician was finishing up my unexpected C-section surgery. I was oblivious that a doctor had pulled my husband aside to discuss one of our premature twins as something seemed very wrong with his eyes.

Back then you were allowed to videotape in the delivery room, and on the tape you can hear a soft-spoken doctor with a British accent trying his best to couch it to my husband in the gentlest way possible as my husband’s camera was now filming the floor.

An hour later, they wheeled me up to the NICU so I could catch a quick peek at our first children, two identical boys. No sooner had I been rolled in when a huge team from the ophthalmology department engulfed us. They whisked me to my room, and I was left to pray that our tiny son could see.

He could see but not well due to a rare form of glaucoma coupled with aniridia (little to no irises). They told us we were lucky to be in Boston as the world’s foremost pediatric glaucoma specialist was just across the city. The next day I gazed at my son’s swollen, damaged eyes while placing complete hope and trust in someone we had never met.

Dr. Walton with Laura Richards’s son
Laura’s son with Dr. Walton.

A few days later, I arrived to a dark NICU except for a small pen light used by an older gentleman sitting knee to knee with a nurse and my son on their combined laps. He was examining his eyes. This humble and unassuming world expert had a worn briefcase with a train pass sticking out of it. After the exam, he introduced himself, told us that we were in for a marathon, not a sprint, and eye surgeries too numerous to count, but he would be with us every step of the way.

Our journey had officially begun.

When my son was 3, he got his first pair of glasses. I became emotional and his doctor said, “Parents have sat where you are and cried about their child wearing glasses, but trust me, before long you won’t notice, they will become a part of him.” He was right.

Glaucoma caused my son to have two corneal transplants in the same eye several years apart. The second transplant surgery caused massive bleeding in the back of his eye, causing him excruciating pain. For a week, we desperately tried to save the eye and his glaucoma doctor was right there with us, checking in around the clock and consulting with the corneal surgeon.

Laura Richards with her sons and Dr. Walton
Laura and her sons with Dr. Walton.

I cried on his shoulder in the hospital hallway as a devastating decision was looming. He hugged me and said, “Look, you are a wonderful mother. The young patients I’ve had with one eye do well. It’s hard to think straight now, but he will have a good life.” Our 8-year-old son’s eye was removed, and his life has been challenging but good. He was right.

Our son is now 14 years old and has had over two dozen surgeries for a variety of things but mostly his eyes. He visits this beloved, grandfatherly doctor every three months. My love for this man is something I can’t put into words because words are too mundane. It’s not his extraordinary knowledge or skill as a doctor and surgeon but his unrelenting support and care for us as a family. He has saved every one of our Christmas cards and taped them into my son’s now several inches thick medical chart. Every visit he tells me what a good mother I am and that I’m “Mother of the Year.” He’s buoyed me on tough days and celebrated on good ones. He’s a listening ear, an encouraging word and always available no matter the concern or question.

He preserved our son’s sight and gave me confidence as a mom. I’m forever grateful. Happy Mother’s Day to all moms with kids with special needs and Happy Mother’s Day to our Dr. Walton who helped shape me into the mother I am today.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing you want to make sure the special needs mom in your life knows? *If you are the special needs mom, challenge a loved one to respond to this! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Bono Reveals the Real Reason Why He Wears His Iconic Sunglasses

This is a reminder that you never know what somebody else might be going through.

In an interview with the Graham Norton Show on BBC America, Bono, the lead singer of U2, opened up about the condition behind his iconic sunglasses.

Norton jokingly asked the rockstar if he ever removes his glasses. Bono responded with an unexpected admission: he wears them because he lives with a condition that makes his eyes sensitive to light.

“This is a good place to explain to people,” he says in the video below. “I’ve had glaucoma for the last 20 years.”

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve, according to the National Eye Institute. It can sometimes result in vision loss and blindness, but with treatment this can often be avoided.

The singer discussed the condition that he’s had for two decades in a light-hearted way and went on to reassure that he’s received treatment for it and will be fine.

See the whole interaction in the video below:

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‘What’s Wrong With His Legs?’ A Special Needs Mom Public Service Announcement

It’s hard out here in these parent-of-a-child-with-special-needs streets.

People have no common sense or just don’t know no betta. That’s where my public service announcement comes in. I figure it can’t hurt to educate folk as to what the experience is like on the backend of some of their ignorant (meant in the truest form of the word) comments. This time it’s me having to respond to the question, “What’s wrong with his legs?” from a stranger… in a motorized chair… with a cane… at a Wal-Mart. Seriously.

So yeah, that happened. Consider yourself informed. Curiosity is fine, but choose a better word than “wrong.”

This post originally appeared on Glamazini.

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The Best Play of This Game Happened After the Clock Ran Out

This is one of the best touchdowns we’ve ever seen.

Although the Rhinelander High School JV football team lost to the visiting team, Mosinee High School, everyone left the field in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, with a smile — especially the team’s honorary captain, 8-year-old Gabe White, as seen in the YouTube video below.

Gabe has Down syndrome and has spent the whole season on the sidelines supporting his brother, who plays on the team, and cheering everyone on. At the end of the last game of the season yesterday, Coach Mark Apfel decided to suit Gabe up in some oversized football gear and send him out onto the field, according to 22 Words.

What followed was an adorable display of good sportsmanship, with both teams playing along. When the opposing team catches on, the players begin purposefully missing tackle after tackle to let Gabe have his moment on the gridiron.

Watch the sweet scene unfold in the video below:


h/t Reddit Uplifting News

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