Patients with keratoconus have traditionally faced a choice between blindness or multiple cornea transplants. Until now.
Last week, Mercy Clinic Eye Specialists performed the first corneal cross-linking procedure in the area. This non-invasive therapy combines ultra-violet light with riboflavin to strengthen the collagen in the cornea.
That’s key, because keratoconus weakens the cornea, causing a cone-like bulge to develop. Most commonly diagnosed in teenagers and young adults, keratoconus results in significant visual loss that worsens over time. In severe cases, the sight-threatening condition requires a corneal transplant.
“Corneal transplants are not only invasive, but they are not permanent,” said Dr. Shachar Tauber, Mercy ophthalmologist. “Most patients who receive a transplant need another within 20 years. Individuals with keratoconus are receiving these transplants so early in life that they will likely need multiple replacements in their lifetime.”
Corneal cross-linking helps stop the progression of keratoconus.
“I had been working to get cross-linking at Mercy for quite some time,” Dr. Tauber said. “Then one day, as I was telling another patient that they needed to travel elsewhere for cross-linking, the patient put money on my desk and told me to raise the funds and get the equipment here. So, I did just that. That anonymous patient was our first donor of many to help us secure the Avedro KXL System and begin cross-linking in Springfield, Missouri.”
For 21-year-old Casey Brown, keratoconus was quickly defining his life. Brown had moved to the area to attend Drury University, but realized his vision was getting significantly worse. After being diagnosed with keratoconus, he made the decision to not live in the dorms and move in with his aunt, Shalene Dunmore, while he took courses online.
“I knew I had bad vision,” Brown said. “But I learned to adapt and didn’t make it a big deal. When my aunt finally made me get my eyes checked we realized my vision was much worse than I could have imagined.”
Brown’s keratoconus had progressed quickly in his left eye. With the significant damage, Dr. Tauber performed a corneal transplant, but was determined to avoid a second transplant on Brown’s right eye.
“He told us blindness would not be Casey’s destiny,” Dunmore said. “That really stuck with me. The entire care team at Mercy has been like a second family to us. They care about Casey and his life goals just as much as I do. Dr. Tauber knew that getting Casey’s right eye cross-linked was going to be crucial in improving his vision. God always has a ram in the bush, and I thank him for his divine provision for Casey and for the use of Dr. Tauber’s gift.”
On Tuesday, June 2, Casey Brown was the first patient to undergo corneal cross-linking at Mercy.
“The goal is to stop Casey’s keratoconus from taking any more of his vision,” Dr. Tauber said. “The cross-linking will essentially cement his cornea so it can’t be further damaged. Then, Casey’s vision can be fixed with a simple contact lens.”
Following his procedure, Brown looks forward to continuing his studies at Drury University. “I have changed my major a few times,” Brown said. “I just want to do something that matters. Maybe I’ll be an ophthalmologist.”