With my blocked carotid arteries, I'm not volunteering for a stroke

Scales

Nothing like the threat of a major, catastrophic health event to make a believer in you for major changes like weight loss.  As part of my vision care after a cornea transplant about six months ago, I had a "CAT" scan which showed that I had one carotid that was blocked a hundred percent and the other was blocked around 20 percent.

Vascular surgeons said the risk is too great for a stroke on the artery that's completely blocked.  Only treatment that works is blood thinners.

At the time, I weighed 220 plus.  The scales above show what I weighed this morning.  My goal is 175.  How'd I do it?  Complete support of my wife and with the new and improved online version of Weight Watchers.  Do I feel like I've deprived myself in what I can eat?  Not really.

For instance, I love Greek yogurt.  Now I eat plain yogurt with some fruit on top and it's great.  Once a week, we'll have poached eggs with dry toast and that's great too.  Can I stay at it?  I've lost weight before.  This time I have potential consequences if I don't keep it off.

This all makes me wonder about how many other people have blocked carotids.  This all started because of decreased blood flow to my eye with the new cornea.  


On my seventy-second birthday, two clogged carotid arteries and 12 family members coming to celebrate

A doctor's office selfie.
Getting the news yesterday about my two plugged carotid arteries.

As we get ready to celebrate my birthday today with the whole family, our two kids, their spouses and six grandkids-one is pre-born-I realize I have a whole lot to be thankful for.  May God help me to remember that always.  

While getting my problem right eye checked by one of my retina specialists for some vision challenges, this young doctor from Egypt suggested that I have my carotid arteries checked out as a possible source of the trouble.  I noticed that on our most recent trip to visit our son and family in St. Louis that looking ahead my vision would fuzz out and the fuzz would go away when I moved my head.

Well, I got a doppler on Wednesday afternoon and by the time I got home and peed, I got a call that they found a blockage.  I was told the doctor needed to see me first thing yesterday.

He told me that the preliminary read of the doppler test showed that I had a 100 percent blockage in one carotid and 50 percent in the other.  Dr. El from LOEyecare in Lansing could have saved my life my urging me to get the test and making the referral.  I was sobered by how this went undetected until this one ophthalmologist suggested the test.  Next steps include seeing a vascular surgeon.

Throughout my right eye challenges, my wife has been alongside me.  She's been to a whole bunch of appointments and exams and to each of my 10 eye surgeries.  I know that she's reflecting the love that she receives through her faith in Jesus Christ.  Her love for me is undeniable and I praise God for it.

Then there's my family.  Our two kids and us has grown to a group of twelve.  They are all coming to our condo to celebrate my birthday and to praise a God who watches over us all, including those of us with transplanted corneas and plugged carotids.

I'm looking forward to it all.  It takes on a special meaning with this new realization of how fragile life can be.

Thank-you God for loving me.


There's a possible new piece to my adventure with my right eye

Dr. El checks the angiogram of my right eye.
Checking on my vision with Dr. El at LO Eyecare in Lansing.

It's happened before while driving in the car where I can be focusing on what's ahead and my vision momentarily fuzzes out on me.  When we drove to St. Louis two weeks ago to visit our son and family I noticed it big time.  The fuzz would disappear whenever I moved my head.  To be extra careful, Gladys drove most of the way there and all the way back home.

I described this to my glaucoma surgeon during a regularly scheduled appointment when we returned.  She suggested that I get my retina checked by our practice's specialist, Dr. El.  Retina was fine, but he suggested that I get my carotid artery check for a blockage that potentially could interfere with my vision.

This follows my cornea transplant almost three months ago at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

How do I feel about this?

Scared!  A little.  And grateful, all at the same time.  If I do have a plaque buildup in this artery that runs from the neck to my head and supplies blood to my eyes and optic nerve, a piece could break-off and I could crossover into stroke land.

Next steps are doppler like tests that take images of the carotid artery.  

This week I read the story about Jesus walking on the water and how Peter stepped out of the boat to go to Jesus.  He got distracted by the waves.  He hollered out to Jesus to save him.  If you hear loud shouts coming from my way, it's me calling for His help.  

I just don't want to get distracted to the point where I take my eyes off him.


Here's what my new cornea transplant looks like from the front

My cornea transplant.
While ordering a new lens for my glasses and my right eye, I got to see my cornea transplant done in May. It's the silver moon-looking spot in my eyeball.

 

After lunch today, I pick-up a new lens for my glasses and the right eye.  It's all part of the continued healing of my right eye after a cornea transplant at the University of Michigan in May.  I was told that my vision could change again within the next few months, but I was encouraged to get an updated lens for my glasses.

The challenge has been seeing detail and that has affected reading and seeing while driving.  This should help, I am told.  Improvement in my vision has been a game of inches, kind of like football where the game is just to move the ball downfield.

While taking a measurement of my pupil at Lenscrafters, they took a picture of my repaired eye and it showed pretty clearly my new cornea.  

My admiration for ophthalmologists has only grown over the past several years.  The U of M's Dr. Bradford Tannen is the latest.  He did the transplant where a layer was taken from a donor eye and grafted onto mine and I was awake and it was done outpatient.  This is the latest on my vision journey.


At eight days U-M ophthalmologist says my cornea transplant is fully-attached

 

Post-op exam at U-M.
See my wife Gladys sitting in the corner next to the computer monitor during second post-op exam after my cornea transplant eight days ago.

 

 

We celebrated after my second post-op exam today by going to Grand Traverse Pie Company near the U-M medical annex on the west side of Ann Arbor.  My cornea surgeon, Dr. Bradford Tannen, said the cornea transplant in my right eye was fully attached with no signs of problems.  Now it's up to the healing process.

Before the surgery, my vision was filled with fuzziness.  It was like watching a television with a lot of static from a cheap set of rabbit ears.  For more than a month, I was getting increasingly frustrated by the prospects of permanently impaired vision.  Now the fuzziness is gone completely.  

It's a waiting game to see how much the detailed part of my vision improves.  I feel optimistic.  I'm also very grateful for everybody who prayed for me during this whole process.

 


I came home with a new cornea in my right eye

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I am home from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with the new cornea in my right eye.  I was the second patient to get surgery at the huge U-M Kellogg Eye Center  on Monday where Dr. Bradford Tannen did the transplant in a little under an hour.  At my first post-op appointment yesterday morning, he said the new cornea is attached firmly and showed no signs of having any problems.

Now the wonders of biology take over with the cells of the new cornea multiplying and forming new tissue.  If all goes according to plan, this should eventually be new corneal tissue giving me a new sight in that eye.  My right eye vision had deteriorated to the point where my sight was reduced to fuzz most of the time.

Right now, I see no fuzz, but I do have a big bubble in the repaired eye to hold the cornea in place.

I was awake during the procedure where they gave me "happy juice" as they called it.  I could hear the doctors talking about getting the tissue in the right position and that was about all I remember.

I was really impressed by the patient-oriented focus of the whole experience.  While awaiting my turn in pre-op, the nurses welcomed my wife, my daughter and two Ann Arbor-area friends to wait with me and to pray for me, the doctors and everybody else involved in the surgery.

Toughest part was having to lay on my back essentially the whole time from when the surgery was done on Monday mid-morning to this morning.  I've never been a back sleeper and that was a big challenge for me.  My wife helped to remind me to keep my head back and looking up.  

 

Gladys sits for yet one more eye exam.
Gladys sitting with me in the exam room at my post-op appointment.

 

 

What have I learned from this chapter of my "eye journey?" 

  • I have lots to be thankful for.  God has blessed me greatly.  Over the past few months, I started to worry about losing my vision.  During that time, I did a careful visual inventory of everything I could remember.  I came to the conclusion that I've had a full life and that my faith in God was coming full circle back to my early Sunday School days.
  • I've had some wrestling matches with God during my life where I doubted whether he was listening to me.  I've felt on the edge of losing the one capability that made it easier to get a handle on daily life--my sight.
  • Then I remembered a book by Kara Tippets, a young mom with cancer who struggled with her disease.  One night while alone in the hospital, she felt God asking her that with Jesus what else would she need.  I reminded frequently reminded myself of what she said.  If I have Jesus, what else do I need?

 

Gladys walking into the U-M Kellogg Eye Center
We were the first ones in the parking lot on Monday morning before surgery.

 

 

  • The human body is amazing and the people who fix are also amazing.  With a chronic case of glaucoma, I know that my eye journey is not over.  I thank God for giving me this body and for leading me to people who take care of it.
  • Family and friends were just amazing.  I pray with three other guys every week who live in different parts of the country.  We use a video tool from Oracle called Zoom.  I'm relearning how to talk to God.  One of the guys is Justin-my son; the other is my son-in-law Adam Jones and the third is my good friend Ken Alexander.
  • Facebook has served as a connecting point for me and lots of other people who have promised to pray for me.  I'm truly thankful for the response.
  • My wife Gladys have been truly supportive every step of the way.  Since my right eye started falling apart in 2012, she has probably been to 75-1000 ophthalmologist appointments.  She serves as another set of ears and as an encourager when I leave the eye doctor and want to kick the can or something else.

I know this is long, but I want to stay in touch. I also want to be an encourager to those who are being challenged physically.

 

 


As my vision worsens, here's an update on my cornea transplant at the U-M in Ann Arbor

 

My eyes in 2013
The arrow points to my problem eye in a picture taken in 2013. I've had nine surgeries in this eye for various things including a dislocated lens and a detached retina. Now a new cornea.

 

 

My faith in God is being tested big time as I wait for my cornea transplant surgery on May 21 at the U-M eye center in Ann Arbor.  My vision is getting fuzzier.  I can move my head and my eyes and see somewhat clearly for a few moments and then the fuzz returns.  I can see best at night during prime time on television.  

To get ready for recovery from the surgery, I bought a set of Apple's Air Pods, wireless ear pods that give audio a new portability and vitality.  This was suggested by my son Justin Thorp who also has turned me on to the accessibility features on my iPhone and my iPad Pro.  It can read back to me whatever's on the screen.  And it does this in an almost real voice.

What are some of the key takeaways for me from this whole eye experience; the eye is amazingly complex.  The surgeon doing the transplant is able to manipulate the donor cornea which has three layers.  If I recall right, he will take the middle layer and graft it on my eye.  And supposedly this could be done in less than an hour.  It's outpatient.

I'm hopeful, but realistic.  I know there's a drain in my right eye that was surgically implanted about a year ago.  That complicates this surgery.  

I'm counting on God's promise that he will meet me at this point of need.  I will report back.

 


With my fuzzy vision, my wife and I went to church--Trinity-Lansing--last night

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Even though this cornea stuff is starting to bug me with the blurry vision and all, we decided to go to church last night.  If ever I wanted a clear line of communication to God, it's right now.  

What I learned while attending the service was both encouraging and troubling.

First, I experienced very directly what other visually impaired worshippers must feel when they attend.  The service is not real user-friendly for those with vision problems.  I could see the big screens, of course, but, I couldn't read the words.  For me, they just weren't there.  What's the answer?  I don't know.

I'm glad my wife was with me.  However, when the service was over and we were out the door, I discovered that I forgot my Promise Keepers baseball cap in the pew.  I almost asked my wife to go with me to get it.  I didn't want to stumble into anybody or anything .  I went in by myself knowing that this was a safe place to get turned around.  I found the cap and found my way out again.

The sermon was from 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10 where the Apostle Paul prays about the thorn in the flesh he had been given by God.  It was some kind of physical ailment and God told him it wasn't going way and that His strength would be made perfect in Paul's weakness.

I walked out of the service with an uneasy feeling in my gut.  What if the vision thing doesn't clear up after the cornea transplant?


With deteriorating vision, going to the fabric store in Mason with my wife

Fat Quarters at a Mason fabric store

While I'm waiting for my appointment with a University of Michigan cornea specialist for a transplant, I'm dealing with vision that seems to be quickly deteriorating.  I'm not sure I understand what's happening other than my visual life is changing quickly.

As I wait for the April 17 appointment, I'm trying to pay attention to what I'm feeling and to the possibility that this could be my new normal.  I'm scared and I admit it.

When my wife yesterday asked, do you want to go out for lunch in Mason, a small town just down the road, and to a fabric store there, I jumped at the chance.  

I think my biggest enemy right now is sitting home waiting for God to flick a switch to turn my vision back on.  I still have to live life and do it somewhat safely.

The fabric store was a cornucopia of colors and patterns and I could see those if I got close enough.  Stepping in and out of the store and the restaurant was more tricky.  My depth perception needs to be recalibrated.

Today is our Saturday night church service.  The adventure continues.


Add me to the list of baby-boomers with cornea problems

When I got up yesterday at 6 a.m., I assumed my usual position on our couch with me on one end and my wife on the other.  This is almost a ritual where we drink our first cup of coffee and read the news and some emails.

It was different this time.  I couldn't make out the words regardless of how big I made them on my iPad Pro.  As a longtime glaucoma patient and as one who has had numerous eye surgeries, I was warned that this day would come.  I was warned that my eyes could reach a tipping point where the optic nerves would start to fall apart to never be made whole again. 

Well, because of a drain surgically implanted a year ago, my eye pressure has never been better.  

Now, it's my cornea, the outer layer of the eye that protects it and which helps focus images which go to the retina and then the optic nerve.  Because of so many surgeries in my right eye, I have plenty of scar tissue which affected the cornea.

In a little more than a week, I will be examined by a specialist at the University of Michigan to determine whether he can do a cornea transplant.  

I've always depended on my vision.  Now I'm having to recalibrate my thinking.  I hope to document this journey which seems to be far from over.


How's my eye pressure and vision seven weeks after my Baerveldt drain implant?

 

Mustard seeds.
I'm praying for a mustard seed sized faith.

 My ability to see is still a question mark seven weeks after surgery where a Baerveldt drain was placed in my right eye.  After having the pressure in that eye creep higher and higher over a period of time with minimal change from eyedrops, I decided to have the surgery.

At my post-op exam by my glaucoma doctor, my right eye pressure was 35.  The week before, it was 11.  The doctor warned me that my pressure could go up and down during this period.  

What about my vision?  For much of the day, my vision is blurry.  To read, I need to carefully adjust my light and the position of what I want to read.  My eyes are super-sensitive to sunlight.  

How do I feel about my visual future?  I feel uncertain.  Maybe even a little scared.  I have real confidence in my glaucoma doctor.  I've come to learn more about the difficult nature of dealing with eye diseases.  I appreciate the depth of her knowledge and with her  surgical skills.

Whatever happens, I am putting the weight of my situation on the "mustard seed" promise in Matthew 17:20.  That verse says that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

Right now, I have vision, even though it may be challenged.  Over the weekend, I had a great weekend at the beach with my family, all of them.  I thank God that I could see my wife, kids and grandkids.

My eye journey continues.

 

My family.
I've memorized this family picture from the weekend.

 

 


The Baerveldt drain in my right eye has opened and the pressure went down

Eyedrops
These are the eyedrops I'm taking post surgery.

Because the pressure in my right eye had been increasing, my glaucoma surgeon implanted a drain to reduce the fluid.  After more than a month after the surgery the Baerveldt drain finally opened and the pressure is about half of what it had been.  That eye is still being watched closely to avoid complications and to be able to react quickly if it changes.

What have I noticed since the surgery?

Right now, the vision in that eye is very blurry, but with both eyes it's manageable.  Walking in a crowd, it would be impossible for me to recognize a person unless that were right in front of me.  Reading is more tricky.  It's all a function of the size of the type, the light where I'm reading and the device I am using.  

I'm taking a small assortment of eyedrops, including a steroid and one called Atropene.  The hope is that better sight will return and that what wasn't restored will be correctable with new glasses.

I know this is going to be a journey.  I am so thankful that I have an ophthalmology practice with a crew of specialists.


One piece of advice for any baby-boomer fighting glaucoma or other eye diseases

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The way the doctor explained it to me is that the glaucoma I've been living with for the past decade could bite me in the butt without any real warning.  Tests show that I've lost substantial optic nerve which is essential for vision.  Once you lose it you don't get it back.  My loss has been stable, but my eye pressure has not been.

My glaucoma specialist explained to me that with those two components, I could soon face a situation where I have continued high pressure and some additional optic nerve loss.  Experience shows, the doctor said, that when this starts, it can quite often lead to a quick loss of optic nerve and vision.

That's why I had a special surgery, yesterday, where my doctor inserted a tiny tube in my eye to help drain fluid with the hope of reducing pressure.  Research published online shows that it has had good results.

This has been one more piece in a litany of eye procedures and experiences.  Along the way, I've been pushed to the wall a couple of times.  What has made a difference to me?

My wife Gladys has been to all the appointments with me and has helped keep me straight on taking eyedrops.  She's my eyes and ears during appointments.  Ophthalmologists seems to all talk very softly.  She helps me listen.

Another help has been my FaceBook community who have been a great source of encouragement and prayer.  I especially felt this yesterday as the doctor cut into my eye.  I was conscious for the whole thing.  Before the surgery, I was fearful about itching my nose or having to pee.  I did it.  And now it's recovery. 


Do you pay attention to the side effects of medication that you take?

Side Effects
These are the side effects from one of my eyedrops. I have experienced everyone, but the last one listed

I've been taking prescription eyedrops for glaucoma for well over a decade.  I've never read the carefully folded paper inside the box holding the drops until this past week.

My wife was clearing off our kitchen counter when she came to an empty eyedrop box with the printed notes filled front-to-back with lines and lines of information about the drops.  The print is "small-small" and anybody with normal vision would have trouble reading it.  

She looked at it and noticed the "Side Effects" listed.  They almost matched perfectly what I've been experiencing for awhile.  I've told my eye doctors about these symptoms for the past few years.  They seem to shrug their shoulders indicating that they are stumped.

What about Side Effects of prescription medication.  When they're listed is it just to comply with Food and Drug Administration requirements?  Are they listed to be meaningful to the consumer?

A few years ago, I asked one of my ophthalmologists about side effects of the drops and he seemed to say they are nothing to worry about.

Should I ask again before my next eye surgery on the day after Easter?


I am thankful for still having my vision and for the ophthalmologists at Lansing Ophthalmology

 

My leftover eyedrops
These are my left over eyedrops mainly from 2013 when I had several eye surgeries and struggled with a glaucoma that had a mind of its own.

 I found these unused eyedrops while going through cabinets, cupboards and crates as my wife and I clean up our house to put it up for sale.  In the process, I found these leftover drops tucked into a little blue bag that they gave me after one of several eye surgeries in 2013.  It was during that challenging year that I learned a lot about the amazing design of the eye and how it's connected to the brain.

At the same time, I got to know a lot of ophthalmologists and their assistants who have nerves of steel and who can pinpoint nuances in the behavior of your eyes.

A key part of my recovery and ongoing treatment are eyedrops.  Some worked and some didn't.  They helped me recover from surgery for a lens in my right eye that wouldn't stay in place  and had to be replaced or repositioned several times.  They have also been key in managing the pressure of my chronic open angle glaucoma.

The above picture shows the extra drops that I had and have expired.


My experience with getting punctual plugs for my chronic dry eye

My chronic dry eye was getting worse and worse.  I was taking more and more over the counter artificial tears and if I missed a dose when I needed them my eyes would scratch, feel like they had sand in them, my vision would sag and I would be miserable.

I entered a new chapter of my dry eye experience yesterday when one of my ophthalmologists Dr. Joseph Wilhelm of Lansing Ophthalmology inserted punctal plugs into my tear ducts.  The idea is to block the ducts to retain more of my tears in each eye.  

When Dr. Wilhelm proposed the plugs, I checked out You Tube videos about the procedure.  I was impressed  by how uncomfortable the procedure looked, but I still decided to give it a try.

Waiting for my punctal plugs.
This was taken yesterday with my wife just before the procedure.

I told my kids and their spouses about my decision.  They were aware of my eye challenges including a lense that would not stay in place, chronic open angle glaucoma, a detached retina and my dry eye.  They knew I went through periods where my vision would be degraded.

Before the procedure, they all texted me that they were praying for me.  This included my son's mother-in-law who is a good friend.  They even texted me pictures of grandkids who they knew would make me smile.  

I did feel a level of anxiety going into the procedure.  I was ready for anything.  Then Dr. Wilhelm started.  He lowered the back of my examination chair and it was "go" time.  As quickly as it started, it was over.  I felt nothing.  The plugs were in.  That was it.  I go back in six weeks.

This morning my vision seemed a lot better and there was none of that dry sensation.  I will continue taking artificial tears as I need them.  But, hopefully, it will be a longer period between doses.  In the last hour, I've noticed a couple of tears coming from my left eye.

This is not a recommendation for this procedure.  It's an account of my experience.  So far, it has been good.

 

 


I was really flattered when my son asked to take a selfie with me and then put it on Instagram

A selfie with my son.
My most recent selfie with my son Justin.

Do you have any selfies with your kids, grandkids, siblings, pastors, doctors or others?

This past weekend our family of eleven had a get-together.  We celebrated family, kids, birthdays in the past and yet to come and how much we have all been blessed.  

While in my daughter's kitchen, my son pulled out his iPhone and told me he wanted a selfie of me and him.  What a compliment!  He then put it on Instagram.  I'm really proud of my whole family, but I carry a special pride for my son Justin Thorp.  We've had a close relationship from the day he entered the world with his umbilical cord still attached.

In addition to being a stellar son, he's an amazing dad and husband.  He's a hands-on dad and is not afraid to get poop under his fingernails.  

I love selfies taken with others,  I've got many with my wife, with my grandkids and even my ophthalmologist who performed a tricky surgery on my right eye.


I wonder if I can take an Instagram picture from the operating room before my eye surgery

IMG_3564-1 (dragged)
The lens in my right eye has dislocated for a fifth time. Surgery on Wednesday. Hopefully, it will stay this time.

The lens in my right eye has come loose for the fifth time.  On Wednesday, two ophthalmologists will replace it and put it in front of the iris in that eye.  One of the doctors will take it out and the other will put the new one in.

This problem with my right eye from what I've learned in my visits with more than a dozen eye doctors is from my life-long nearsightedness.  It changed the grippers that the handles of the artificial lens goes into.

Is vision overrated?  Not at all.  I want to hang onto my vision as long as I can.  I've been talking to God about that.  I've been taking a visual inventory of everything I've seen in my life, so I can have these images firmly in my brain.  I thank God for ophthalmologists.  I especially pray for the two who will be working on me next week.

IMG_3602
These are from my collection of eyedrops left over from my past eye surgeries. I've thrown away about an equal amount.

I have one month to wait for next step in my effort to keep vision in my right eye

 

A picture of my eyes
This was taken in 2013 when I had several surgeries on my right eye

 The lens in my right eye has run amuck for the fifth time.  I've had four different ophthalmologists examine it with one saying it has completely come loose and others saying it's partly attached, but flapping around.  What does this mean?

Right now, I have double vision most of the time.  I also have trouble reading, including the web on my new 27-inch monitor attached to my laptop.

Here's the fix:  on May 13, two surgeons will work on taking out the lens and replacing it with a new one that will be placed in front of my iris.  It's about a two hour surgery that has risks, but appears to be the only way to fix it.  

To be honest, it would be easy to let the condition of my present vision, the surgery and the uncertainty consume my thoughts.  With my wife's help and with the help of family, I am going to work hard to avoid that.

But most important is turning this over to God.  It easier said than done.  Even so, I just have to do it.  I pray fervently that he will give me that kind of faith.

Our pastor, Jeff Manion of Ada Bible Church, shared this prayer a few years ago.  He says he starts everyday by asking God to give him the grace to trust him everyday.  "Dear Lord, I am asking the same."

I will report on the next leg of my eye journey from time to time.  Today, I will teach myself how to use my cell phone to dictate posts right into this blog, just in case, I can't see well enough.

 

My daily prayer.
I have my pastor's prayer taped to the back of my desk.