April 17, 2004.
By SUSAN WOOLSEY,
McAlester News Capital & Democrat.
Now that her son has his sight again, Pam Roberts is e-mailing and posting messages about it all over the Internet. She has received responses from people right here in McAlester, and from around the world.
Her son, Savanna High School senior Lesley Roberts, has juvenile macular degeneration, also called Stargardt's. It is a progressive disease that eventually leads to total blindness. It's also a rare disease, one that doesn't command a lot of research dollars. In the past people with Stargardt's could only resign themselves to going blind, knowing that each day their vision was getting dimmer and dimmer.
But this isn't the 20th century anymore. This is the 21st century and people don't take answers lying down. They get up and find out all they can about something that affects them and then they take action. For Pam Roberts, that meant searching day and night on the Internet, until finally she discovered Dr. Gerard Nolan.
Dr. Nolan has an office in Connecticut and has discovered that by treating Stargardt's with Echotiophate Iodide, he can restore blood flow to his patients' eyes and they are able to see again. The medicated drops have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for glaucoma, but they have not been approved for Stargardt's, which means insurance won't cover the price of the visit to Dr. Nolan or the drops themselves.
The community pulled together and soon the Roberts family had enough money to go to Connecticut.
When they came back they joyously told everyone all about Les and his restored eyesight. Pam Roberts didn't forget that she had found the "miracle drops" on the Internet, so she posted an article written by the News-Capital & Democrat onto a message board for people with Stargardt's. She wanted others to know that "there is hope out there."
One of the people who heard about the message of hope is Rhonda Bourland, a woman from McAlester who has been slowly going blind since she was 15. As quickly as she could make preparations and get the money gathered together, Bourland and her husband Mike were on their way to Connecticut. "Miracle Flights paid for our tickets," she said Friday afternoon. "My husband and I had never flown before and I didn't really look at the inside of the plane on the way up there, I was so anxious to get there.
"And then, after Dr. Nolan put the drops in..." here she stopped talking for a moment, still in awe of what happened next. In a burst of enthusiasm she started wiggling in her seat and her voice poured out of her, "I didn't realize green was so green! It is absolutely marvelous! The TV! I can see all the way to the next block. Oh, my God!"
Holding up a bottle about an inch tall, she looked at it and asked "How could something so little be so powerful? It's $35 a bottle and so worth it!"
Bourland said that after the drops are placed in the eyes, they can't be opened again "for eight hours. So if you have to get up in the middle of the night, you have to remember not to open your eyes."
She puts the drops in her eyes a few times a week, then pinches the bridge of her nose so the medicine won't run down into her sinus cavities. Then it's off to sleep for eight hours. Each and every morning she wakes up and her sight is still there, and she is still in awe.
The news about Lesley Roberts' success with the drops was picked up by people from all around the world. After signing on to the Internet, people would type "Stargardt's" or "juvenile macular degeneration" into a search engine and they would discover the story that was printed by the News-Capital & Democrat.
Lesley's mother shared some of the e-mails she began to receive with this newspaper. "I just need to pass along some exciting news to you," she wrote in an e-mail. "This morning I have received two emails from people living in Turkey that read about Lesley from your article on the Internet and they are wanting to come to Connecticut to see Dr. Nolan."
The first e-mail that Roberts forwarded to this newspaper was from a young man named Emrah Gur who lives in Istanbul, Turkey. The next e-mail from Turkey came from a woman named Cumhur Ozkozaci, whose sisters have Stargardt's. Roberts said she called Dr. Nolan's office and found out that both of these people have contacted the doctor about coming to America and trying the experimental drops.
One day the phone rang in the newsroom and it was a young man named Jeff Williams from Fort Lauderdale, FL. With tears in his voice he said he had found the article on the Internet and for the first time in his life, had hope that he would not go blind, but would retain his sight. Someday, he said, he hopes to be able to see children and grandchildren, but for now he'll just settle for seeing blue skies, white clouds, green grass, the blue ocean and the faces of people he loves.
For more information about Stargardt's or the medicated drops, check out www.mdsupport.org or e-mail Pam Roberts at email@example.com
Copyright © 2004 McAlester News Capital & Democrat.
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