My fun trip to Casey Eye Institute this week, and the results…

So on Wednesday, I sat in the waiting room of Casey Eye Institute again, heart pounding, hands numb with terror where my fingers clutched at the wooden arms of the chair. (And if you think *that* sounds bad, then you should have seen me every time I had to go there four years ago!) I was surrounded by little old ladies in wheelchairs and inching along on walkers, their faces full of stubbornness and determination, with the flashing eyes and set lips of survivors. As usual, there were a couple of children, too. I tried to never look at the children, sitting quietly by their mothers, their faces hidden behind thick glasses, their faces filled with the weary patience of eight or nine year olds who have spent too much of their young lives in doctor’s offices and waiting rooms. There’s a lot more of this type of description in my memoir, but you know, I think we’ll stop there for the purposes of a blog post.

The point is, I went to Casey again, which I have to do twice a year. As usual, I would rather have been chased off a cliff by rabid wolves. But I sat in the chair while the retinal scanner went up and down my eyes; I sat in another chair while the cute and chirpy assistant stuck a dubious-looking metal thing meant to measure glaucoma right up against my eyeball, and I sat in the really fancy chair as I waited for Dr. Lauer to come in and interpret it all. (Hint: meditation mp3’s don’t really help in this situation.) And the news was…

(drumroll)

IT’S ALL GOOD!

Okay, maybe it’s not exactly *good*, but my vision is stable. There’s nothing new going on (which would mean new and bad; definitely not new and good.) The first doctor who looked at my retinas through that horrible bright slit lamp thingy was amazed that I hadn’t needed a new Lucentis injection since 2011. This really isn’t normal, and nobody seems to know why the first injections have held up so long. Of course, nobody ever exactly identified the original disease, either. 😛 So I was set free that day to skip out into the sunshine of the wide world outside OHSU, as people looked at me and wondered if I’d escaped from the psych ward.

But it did make me think about a few things.

Yes, this is good news. But there’s never any guarantee. I really do live one day at a time. And I know how lucky I am compared to a lot of people. Most younger patients are not helped by anti-VEGF drugs at all. It makes me a very impatient patient when I think about all the glowing news in the past few days,. Very little of the gushing is supported by fact. The much-ballyhooed treatment at Moorfields isn’t just in the first experimental stages. It’s also dangerous, invasive, scarring, risky to the survival of the retina, and extremely expensive. Why is there so much over-the-top excitement about it?? It’s exactly like the wet AMD treatment in Japan earlier this year, the one based on IPSC’s rushed to the clinic dangerously fast. The study was abruptly stopped, and nobody ever got a straight answer as to why. Other scientists have skirted the issue, showing a lot of professional courtesy in not confronting Dr. Takahashi, I’m sure, but not much regard for the rights of patients.

It’s hard to wait. But it’s good to know that we are waiting for something that works. That doesn’t set aside the issue of what may or may not happen in Phase II. But it does acknowledge the fact that we know that for the people in the Ocata study, the treatment to date has worked. I, for one, am over the excited gushing surrounding experimental treatments that haven’t even begun to do that much. Because we, the patients, deserve better than this. Everyone going through their own personal hell at Casey on Wednesday deserves better. I believe that we will get it. I have learned to wait, God only knows how. I haven’t been to any mountaintop, but I have seen a glimpse of it. We will get there, and we will do it together. So I say to everyone,… have faith, and hold on!

Cathy Danielson
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Cathy Danielson

In 2011, my life was shattered when I was diagnosed with a mysterious, incurable disease that always ends in blindness. The only hope on the horizon was a drug that broke all barriers in early testing. This drug, which replaces damaged cells in the eye, comes from the new class of stem cell based treatments that could cure the incurable, providing hope for patients with cancer, heart failure, ALS, cerebral palsy, and many more fatal and disabling diseases.

I survived the disease, and I now have the only remission on record. But a remission is not a cure. The stem cell drug I need for a real cure is now rapidly moving towards approval in the rest of the world, but in the USA, it—and all other cellular therapies-- are still stuck behind prejudice, ignorance, and lack of funding. Hundreds of millions of desperate patients with incurable diseases need these drugs.

That’s why I’ve gone on to fight for greater public education on stem cell drugs, knowing that our laws must be changed so that all of us can get access to the best treatments instead of our health and our lives being held hostage by special interests.

I’m now a patient advocate whose work on stem cells and patients’ rights has been published in outlets such as the Oregonian. I am a manager at popular science and financial blog www.stemcellinvestor.com and a frequent speaker at many venues across the spectrum, including churches, scientific conferences, and atheist groups, and everything in between. I’m also an advocate for Right to Try laws that would allow access to experimental medication for terminal patients at the state level. Read the entire story in my upcoming book, And the Blind Shall See: A Skeptic Patient Surprised by Faith, Science, Family, and Miracle Cures.
Cathy Danielson
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