Injections save vision after macular degeneration diagnosis
On December 30, 2006, Bee Epstein-Shepherd was returning from a trip, passing the time on the airplane by reading. When she got home, she turned on her computer, stared at a line of type that was supposed to be straight, and noticed that it looked wavy.
“I panicked, because I knew what it meant,” says Epstein-Shepherd, a doctor of clinical hypnotherapy who has built a career on helping people deal with fear and stress.
She was diagnosed with “wet” macular degeneration, a chronic eye disorder that her mother also had. It can cause blurred vision or a blind spot from abnormal blood vessels that leak fluid or blood. Most people diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have “dry” AMD, in which the central portion of the retina thins; vision is compromised, but there is no leakage or bleeding.
Seeing a straight line appear wavy was a strong indication that a vessel in Epstein-Shepherd’s eye was bleeding into her macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision.
“In a matter of a few hours, from the time I got off the plane to the time I got home, my eye apparently had bled very quickly, so I immediately picked up the phone and called my ophthalmologist,” says the Carmel Valley resident.
“It was the Saturday night before New Year’s Eve, and Dr. (Eric) Del Piero responded right away,” Epstein-Shepherd says. “He saw the urgency and had me in his office at 8 o’clock Sunday morning, which showed exactly what kind of doctor he is.”
Wet macular degeneration is usually treated by injecting medications into the eye that can help stop the growth of new blood vessels. The injections may be needed as often as once a month. If vision has been lost or compromised due to the disease, it may be partially restored in some cases as the blood vessels shrink and the fluid is absorbed.
In Shepherd-Epstein’s case, regular treatments over the past 14 years have preserved her vision: At 83, she showed 20-25 vision in her right eye and 20-30 in her left in her most-recent exam.
The injections are done in the Outpatient Surgery Center at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
Injections into the eye sound daunting, but Epstein-Shepherd, the professional stress reliever, offers this reassurance:
“They are painless, because your eye is numbed beforehand,” she says. “You’ll feel a little pressure, but, honestly, I feel a lot more pain if I get poked picking my roses than I’ve ever had from the injections.
“Doctors advise you to take Tylenol® if you experience any discomfort after a treatment, but I’ve never had to do that,” says Epstein-Shepherd, who estimates she’s had more than 50 injections since January 2007. “I can’t say I’ve ever had an unpleasant experience from the treatments I’ve received.”
Epstein-Shepherd also takes vitamins to boost eye health on her doctor’s advice, and says she’s experienced almost no loss of vision since she began the treatments.
It’s been 14 years since we started,” she says, “and if my vision has changed at all, those changes have been so slow and so minimal that I hardly notice. — Bee Epstein-Shepherd, patient