Cyndi Daugherty, age 62, of Indianapolis has lived with type 1 diabetes since 1986. Well aware that her condition put her at increased risk of developing blinding eye disease, each year Cyndi had a routine dilated eye exam to check for signs of diabetes-related eye complications, such as diabetic retinopathy. For many years her exams revealed no problems. But the risk of diabetic retinopathy increases with the amount of time an individual has had diabetes. In 2011, after 25 years of diabetes, Cyndi’s eye exam revealed worrying signs that her vision was being compromised, even though she hadn’t noticed any symptoms.

Immediately Cyndi was referred to a retina specialist who she met with the following week. “I remember sitting in the waiting room, worried that I was going to go blind,” recalled Cyndi. “I started crying when another patient said, ‘That’s how I felt when I first came here, too.’ He reassured me that it was okay to feel scared, but he seemed to be doing well, so that gave me hope.”

“I remember sitting in the waiting room, worried that I was going to go blind,” Cyndi Daugherty

Her retina specialist was ophthalmologist Raj Maturi, MD. He told her that in addition to diabetic retinopathy, she also had a complication called diabetic macular edema, which occurs when fluid from damaged blood vessels causes the macula to swell and stop working properly. This is the leading cause of vision loss among people with diabetes. But Dr. Maturi assured her that newly available treatment could improve this condition and even save her sight. Cyndi started getting treatment every two or three weeks.

The type of treatment Dr. Maturi provided Cyndi is known as anti-VEGF therapy and is administered by injection directly into the eye to reduce the growth of abnormal blood vessels. “At first I was nervous about that, and my husband can’t stay in the room to watch,” said Cyndi. “I just try to think of something pleasant. I used to be a pediatric nurse, so I’ve told many children that holding still is important. Now I just need to remind myself of the same thing,” she laughed.

“Thirty years ago, studies showed that nearly 80 percent of people with diabetes had diabetic retinopathy after living with diabetes for 15 years,” said Dr. Maturi. “But now we’re seeing a very different story thanks to improved diabetes management tools and new therapies. The prognosis we’re able to give today is, in many cases, greatly improved and allows people like Cyndi to keep their vision and maintain their health.”

“I can watch my 3-year-old granddaughter grow up and see her smile,” Cyndi Daugherty

The treatment has worked well for Cyndi whose vision had varied between 20/40 and 20/70. She now has nearly 20/20 vision and only returns for treatment every three months or so. “I can watch my 3-year-old granddaughter grow up and see her smile. Having to get shots into my eyes is a small price to pay for that!”

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy Vision Simulator
Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy simulator: what you might see if you have NPDR.
Non-proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy Vision Simulator
Non-proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy simulator: what you might see if you have NPDR.

“Cyndi’s story is a great example of the importance of getting a dilated eye exam each year if you have diabetes,” said Dr. Maturi. “Without treatment, she probably would have lost her sight permanently. But because she got eye exams each year, her diabetic retinopathy was noticed and we were able to provide her with the treatment she needed before it was too late.”

“It’s important to remind people not to give up,” says Cyndi. “For me, being diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy has been a journey, not a permanent disability. You just have to take an active part in it. There will be curves in the road that you don’t expect, but seeking treatment to keep your sight is worth the effort.”

Story shared from the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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