By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Judy Gross knew that she had a date with blindness at some point in her future.
Gross, 67, suffers from glaucoma, an eye disease that left unchecked will gradually rob its victims of their eyesight.
Glaucoma is the No. 1 cause of irreversible blindness, afflicting people of all ages, even infants. It is caused when fluid builds on the interior of the eyeball, putting pressure on the optic nerve. Eventually that pressure leads to nerve damage, loss of peripheral vision and, if untreated, blindness.
An Edmond interior decorator, Gross treated her condition with eye drops, which she applied three times a day. The drops dried her eyes, making them red, “scratchy” and leaving her constantly feeling tired.
“The eye drops would be holding the pressure down, but still there was always that thought in the back of my mind,” Gross said. “I could go blind with this.”
Despite the daily drops, the pressure in her eyes continued to build. In 2012, her ophthalmologist recommended that she see Mahmoud Khaimi, M.D., a glaucoma specialist at Oklahoma City’s Dean McGee Eye Institute.
Dr. Khaimi was one of the first adopters in the U.S. of a new type of surgery called canaloplasty. The advanced surgery is less invasive, less risky and leads to fewer post-operative complications than traditional glaucoma surgery techniques, he said.
To understand canaloplasty, it is helpful to be acquainted with a common heart procedure known as angioplasty.
“I can talk to just about anyone and they will know what angioplasty is,” Khaimi told me during a recent visit in his Dean McGee Eye Institute office. “In essence, what they do is they will find a clogged blood vessel, balloon it open and put in a permanent stent to keep it open.
“So what I do with canaloplasty is isolate your eye’s drain system and dilate it open. And I put a permanent stent in to keep it open.”
A question. Why does the fluid build in the eye in the first place?
“In layman terms, the eyeball has a faucet and a sink,” he said. “The faucet is always turned on, but the sink doesn’t always drain.”
Traditional glaucoma surgery, which is still used for many patients, actually diverts the fluid outside the eye so it can drain. That requires a longer, closely monitored post-operative period.
“Canaloplasty has a similar post-operative course to a post-operative cataract course,” Khaimi said. “In the world of glaucoma, this is unheard of.”
A native of Michigan and graduate of Wayne State School of Medicine, Khaimi came to Oklahoma on a glaucoma fellowship at Dean McGee Eye Institute in 2006 and never left. Today he mentors other physicians who are serving glaucoma fellowships.
“The beauty of Dean McGee is that it is world renowned,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege to teach ophthalmologists from throughout the nation and the world who have come to watch me do this particular procedure. We’re doing the latest and the greatest here in Oklahoma.”
Which brings us back to the battle Judy Gross has waged against glaucoma. She calls the canaloplasty and simultaneous cataract surgeries she underwent in 2012 a “miracle,” with no complications since.
“It is truly a great procedure,” she said. “Thank the Lord I was a candidate for it.”