On one of his regular mid-day swims, 78-year-old Leroy Muffler noticed a persistent V-shaped, translucent spot in his left eye. By the weekend an area of cloudiness developed and he saw more than 20 tiny black spots called floaters. He knew he shouldn’t ignore these serious changes to his vision.
Muffler called his long-time ophthalmologist, Judith Nevitt, MD. She diagnosed him with a detached retina. The retina is the layer of nerve cells lining the back wall inside the eye. This layer senses light and sends signals to the brain so you can see. If it becomes detached, it will cause vision loss if it’s not repaired.
“It was so different from anything else I’d experienced, I knew it was significant, but I had no idea it was a detached retina,” said Muffler, of Palo Alto, Calif. “If I’d waited longer, or had gone on the European trip my wife and I had planned, I would have had serious problems.”
“If I’d waited longer...I would have had serious problems,” Leroy Muffler, 78
Detached retina simulator: what you might see if you have a detached retina.
While retinal detachment can occur after an eye injury, such as being hit in the face with a ball or fist, it also is more common with age. When the gel inside the eye shrinks it can pull the retina away from the back of the eye. People who are very nearsighted or have had cataract surgery, as Muffler had, are at greater risk.
Dr. Nevitt referred Muffler to Rahul N. Khurana, MD, a vitreoretinal surgeon. There are a few ways to repair a detached retina, from an office procedure to a surgical procedure. In Muffler’s case, Dr. Khurana performed a vitrectomy in the operating room where the gel was removed, a gas bubble was injected to push the retina back into place and then sealed with a laser. The gas bubble kept the retina in place while it healed. The bubble dissolved in two weeks.
“It’s very important that people who experience new floaters or flashes get a dilated retinal exam,” said Dr. Khurana. “While Leroy didn’t have flashes, most people with a detached retina do. They describe flashes as very bright, like lightning or looking into the headlights of a semi-truck.”
Muffler had to take it easy for a few weeks while he healed from the surgery. The recovery period meant that he had to temporarily give up his regular routines of half-mile swims and exercising. And he and his wife, Pat, had to cancel a Rhine River cruise because he wasn’t able to fly until the gas bubble completely dissolved. They are trying to reschedule the trip.
“I’m not taking any risks. If I see anything like that again in either eye I will call my ophthalmologist right away,” Leroy Muffler, 78
The change in plans was a small price to pay for not losing vision in one eye, which would have seriously curtailed Muffler’s active lifestyle. “The operation was quite successful and I got a clean bill of health,” said Muffler, who is retired from the U.S. Geological Survey but continues to volunteer as a geothermal energy and volcano researcher. “I can do everything I could do before the retinal tear, including flying.
“Losing sight in an eye would have made things very difficult,” he said, “I’m not taking any risks. If I see anything like that again in either eye I will call my ophthalmologist right away.”