Sue VandePanne’s Story of Hope

Sue Vandepanne's Story of Hope
Sue VandePanne’s Story of Hope

It’s been twenty one months since I developed this horrible Dry Eye disease. Back then my symptoms were unbearable. My eyes were scratchy and gritty. I could hardly keep them open they hurt so much. It felt like I had foreign objects in my eyes. There were days I didn’t want to get up in the morning and I couldn’t wait to go to bed at night. Actually that was true on most days!

It all started two weeks after cataract surgery. I’d experienced severe eye pain for no apparent reason in past years. But it always went away after a few days. Not anymore. After seeing six eye doctors, I was scared this was going to be my new normal. It was hard just to keep searching for the right doctor. How do you keep searching for the right doctor when your  eyes feel so bad? I even felt as if I was going to lose my sanity.

A Doctor Who Finally Helps

Although we live in Michigan, my husband and I are snow birds, spending our winters in Florida. So in January 2015, I was very lucky to find Dr. Steven Maskin in Tampa, just over an hour away from our winter home. He was the first doctor who understood my symptoms, diagnosed a variety of conditions, and knew what to do about them. The first thing he did was check for infections – which I had. He probed my meibomian glands, and with that I finally had some relief. He also cauterized my upper and lower tear ducts because my tear film was aqueous deficient. But I needed even more treatment. Because there were wrinkles and heavy red veining on the surface of my eyes I had surgery – amniotic membrane transplants – in both eyes.

Sue Vandepanne
Sue VandePanne

We ended up spending a hot summer in Florida as I underwent treatment. And for nine months I made weekly trips to Tampa. Although it was a long nine months, I was grateful to finally be in the care of a doctor who could help.

My meibomian glands were the biggest challenge. Although after probing they produced oil, the oil wasn’t making its way to the tear film. So I continued to experience discomfort and a variety of troublesome symptoms. But Dr. Maskin was not going to give up on me. He was determined to get me to a place where I would be comfortable. He gave me eye injections for inflammation and he used larger probes and dilated my meibomian glands to improve the flow of oil.

A Wet Contact Lens

In the fall of 2015 I wanted to return home to Michigan to see my family which I hadn’t seen in months. Dr. Maskin tried a bandage contact lens in my left eye, the worse of the two. When it helped tremendously, Dr. Maskin suggested that, while home in Michigan, I should find a doctor who could fit me for contacts – the wettest ones that are comfortable. The contacts would work as a bandage to protect my eyes.

A wet contact lens helped
A wet contact lens helped

At first I didn’t believe that contacts could improve my eye comfort. I had tried contacts when I was younger and my eyes just couldn’t handle them. So I didn’t think they would work now. But I decided to follow Dr. Maskin’s advice. It turns out the contacts are a life saver for me. I found a wonderful optometrist in Michigan who found a pair of contacts, Dailies Total 1, that would work for me. Because I have astigmatism, I still have to wear glasses to correct my vision. But now I put the contacts in first thing in the morning, and take them out when I go to bed each night. Thankfully my eyes feel normal and comfortable most days.

Although I don’t think much about my eyes anymore, certain environmental conditions can change that – sand or dust blowing in the air; riding a motorcycle or a motorboat. Going to the beach is still a bit concerning. But most of the time my eyes are pretty comfortable.

Keep Searching for the Right Doctor

I wanted to share my story because I know many of you are experiencing horrible symptoms and wondering if life will ever be normal again. All I can say is keep searching for the right doctor. They are out there. You just have to find them. I did. And now I function normally (mostly) and once again enjoy life. Yes, it took time and perseverance. And at times I never thought I would get better. But I did. I got much better.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for Dry Eye. It takes time and energy to find the right doctor. And you have to make a commitment to stay the course and get better.

I truly believed my case was hopeless. I felt frustrated, desperate, and wasn’t sure for a few months if I even wanted to wake up in the morning. But…here I am writing this, feeling blessed. There are many treatment options out there for everyone with Dry Eye. Explore them all and hope for the best. Keep searching for the right doctor and you will find help. Nothing lasts forever!

Sue VandePanne

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