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Posted on 03-28-2014

"An eye exam can prove to save a life or extend a life.”  These are the words of a former optician I know who recalls an incident early in her career that would forever change the way she viewed optometrists and their role as healthcare providers.

For K., (the optician), most days were filled with routine eye exams for patients with common complaints like, “My glasses aren’t strong enough.”  While days like those run together in her memory, the events of a particular day made it one she will never forget.  An older gentleman came in for a regular exam.  He did not report feeling ill, but when the optometrist looked into his eyes he saw something alarming.  The doctor did not comment much, except to say, “I want you to contact your family physician immediately.”

The optician remembers getting a phone call soon after with the news the gentleman had been admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with leukemia.  The gentleman passed away from leukemia, but the optician believes that early diagnosis may have given him additional time.

Unfortunately, the optometrist who originally examined this patient has passed on.  I was curious as to what he may have seen during the examination.  I asked my husband, Dr. David Littlejohn, for his opinion and he said he may have seen “Roth’s spots” – hemorrhages in the retina of the eye with white or gray centers that could be an indication of leukemia.

I recall early in my husband’s career a “Thank You” note sent to him from a young lady who was soon to be married.  She had been diabetic since early childhood and although she knew diabetics can lose their sight, finances kept her from getting regular eye exams.  After an incident at work, which resulted in broken eyeglasses, she came to my husband for the first time for an exam.  It was during that exam that Dr. Littlejohn explained how diabetics can lose their vision from the disease. 

Although her vision was only slightly blurry, she was told she had diabetic retinopathy or bleeding vessels in the back of her eye as a result of her disease.  Dr. Littlejohn sent her to a retinal specialist where she received laser treatments to help stop the progress of her retinopathy.

The note this young lady wrote included the words, “You saved my vision.”  We have moved several times over the years and that note has made every move with Dr. Littlejohn.

Next time you see your optometrist, ask him or her about the out-of-the-ordinary things they have seen over their careers.  You might be very surprised by their answers.  My husband has sent people on to specialists when abnormal tests later turned out to be brain tumors.  He has seen a worm larva (yes a worm!) in someone’s eye, and has sent many to their primary care physicians for the diagnosis of diabetes and high blood pressure.

Helping patients see clearly and preserving vision is the passion of most optometrists, but the examination of the inside of the eye gives so many clues to a patient’s overall health.  Just as you schedule yearly wellness exams, you should schedule a yearly eye exam.  Don’t let the lack of finances keep you away – there is no price that can be put on optimal health and vision!

To ensure you get the care you need, most optometrists take credit cards, participate in a variety of insurance plans and may offer financing programs, such as Care Credit.

Call today to schedule an appointment with your optometrist.

This blog is written by Michelle Littlejohn, wife of Optometrist David Littlejohn, located at 8090 Looney Rd., Piqua (937) 606-2772

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