A lifelong athlete comes to terms with his KC.
In retrospect, it made sense. The high-school baseball star now understood why he’d been unable to hit off-speed pitches during his senior-year season: He couldn’t pick up the spin of the ball with his left eye. A Las Vegas native and lifelong athlete, Eric Evans was diagnosed with keratoconus (KC) in fall 1989 during a routine eye exam just after high-school graduation.
Other than limiting him to fastballs, KC didn’t have a strong impact on Evans’ life until his mid-20s, when he realized he was constantly squinting. He visited the eye doctor, who showed Evans’ then-fiancé what it was like for Evans to see. As she looked up at him, he recalls: “She looked like she wanted to cry. I didn’t think my sight was that bad! I realized, for her, it was like going from looking through a clear shower curtain to a frosted shower curtain in a second. For me, it had been so gradual – I’m always looking through a frosted shower curtain – that I didn’t realize how bad it was. Her reaction was a reality check.”
Evans donned his first pair of RGP (rigid gas permeable) contact lenses and headed to the gym he’d been frequenting for four years – the first place he’d worked as a personal trainer. “I’d been there hundreds of times before, but it was like I was seeing it for the first time,” he says. “I felt like I’d been blind my whole life and didn’t know it. I’d been given sight.”
The lenses helped keep Evans’ KC somewhat at bay until his late 20s, when the deterioration of sight in his left eye started to accelerate. During another routine exam one Tuesday in 2004, his doctor said: “I don’t know what you have scheduled for Thursday, but cancel it. You’re having a cornea transplant.”
Evans underwent his first transplant in February 2004; it was considered a success until about three years later when his body started to reject the cornea. “My doctor told me I am just too healthy. Really. The healthier you are, the stronger your immune system. My immune system is like an army fighting against anything foreign,” he says. Including his new cornea.
While Evans considers himself to have a high tolerance for pain, by 2008 recurrent irritation on his grafted eye was becoming unbearable – he went from feeling as though he always had an eyelash in it to feeling like there was a needle in his eye.
Since his first transplant, Evans had relocated to Denver for his job as the strength and conditioning coach for the Denver Outlaws, a professional field-lacrosse team. He’d also left behind his eye doctor, so he turned to the National Keratoconus Foundation (NKCF) for a referral.
Not only did NKCF Executive Director Catherine Warren help him find a new doctor, but Evans found a key resource for information. “As good as my doctors are, they can’t tell you everything,” he says. “For instance, no one told me I should change my contact-lens case every three months. I learned that in an NKCF newsletter. It’s a super resource, because it fills in the holes.”
Evans underwent his second corneal transplant in November 2008, another success until this past July, when rejection began again. Steroid injections helped, as did steroid drops. Unfortunately, he developed a cataract as a side effect of the treatments. He’ll have cataract surgery in January 2011. Then they’ll find out whether the corneal transplant can still be saved or if he needs a third transplant.
An exceedingly positive person, Evans tries to keep everything in proper perspective, though he says: “As much as I appreciate everything I have and all the advances in medicine and treatment, I’m human. Every now and then, I’ll have a moment where it all gets to me. I just want to see. I don’t want to be the next president of the United States. I no longer want to be a professional athlete. I don’t want to win a Nobel Peace Prize. I just want to see like I used to see. I want to see the world the way everyone else sees the world.”