by Courtney A. Ronner
A big part of being an athlete is pushing your physical and mental limits, something that is no small feat for those who plead their love to endurance. It’s also about inspiring others with your story and beating the little voice in your head that tells you to quit. Richard Pedone is one of those special athletes.
Richard (or Richie as he is known to his teammates) had always been an athlete: whether it was power-lifting or playing a pick-up soccer game with friends in his hometown of Marlboro, New Jersey, he always led an active lifestyle. Terrifyingly, in his early twenties, he began to notice a rapid deterioration in his vision. After seeing a slew of doctors and specialists, he was finally given a definitive diagnosis: Keratoconus (KC) in both eyes, a progressive eye disease which causes the cornea to thin and bulge.
Soon after his diagnosis Richie learned that treatment options for KC in the Unites State were limited in the early 2000′s. Despite being given stronger prescription lens, it was ineffective at correcting his vision. In 2011, after being urged by his ophthalmologist, Richie took part in a relatively new clinical trial that seemed to be picking up steam here in the United States. The procedure was called Corneal Collagen Crosslinking (CXL), a procedure which, as of today, is still not FDA-approved.
During CXL treatments, the ophthalmologist removed the top layer of Richie’s cornea while riboflavin drops saturated the cornea and controlled amount of UVA light was administered. The procedure was done in hopes of stabilizing the condition in order to prevent the need of a corneal transplant. While his right eye responded well to the clinical trial, the progression of KC in his left eye was too great to safely perform corneal crosslinking. However, there was still hope: a corneal transplant for his left eye.
As Richie was patiently waiting for his corneal transplant surgery, he developed a rare condition called Hydrops in his left eye. Hydrops, an extremely painful condition, caused a complete white out in his vision as the interior layer of his cornea ruptured and eye fluid entered. Luckily, a donor cornea was available and he was rushed into surgery. After surgery, his life was about to completely change.
When talking about his post-op period, Richie explained that it “was very difficult for me both mentally and physically. I was very active prior to the corneal transplant. I had just begun training for a power-lifting competition in April, which was then indefinitely postponed. Sight out of my left eye was very limited for the first few weeks, which made reading or watching TV practically unfeasible.”
He spent much of his time listening to the radio or entertaining his niece and nephew. Eye medications were put into his eye every hour, on the hour like clockwork.
“I was out of work for almost two months,” he explained. “I wondered, Would I ever be the same?” Slowly but surely, over time, Richie’s condition improved.
Despite the surgery and clinical trial, Richie was waiting for the day when he could get back to sports and his physical routine. He was told by his surgeon that he could return to physical activity four months after surgery, but exactly what he would be able to do remained uncertain. Power-lifting was out because of the pressure put on his eye from lifting heavy weight, but after chatting with a close friend from Penn State, his alma mater, triathlon was suggested and eventually cleared by his surgeon. His friend convinced him to join a local triathlon club and to see how he would like it. Richie instantly fell in love with the sport of triathlon and for the past year has been training with Asphalt Green, a New York City triathlon club for his first big season.
“I’ve made such great friends with the coaches and athletes. I accomplished three Sprint distances last summer, and now have my eyes set on a Half-Iron distance triathlon in June.”
But he’s not stopping there. In July of this year, Richie will be racing for “Team Donate Life” in the New York City Triathlon to help raise organ and tissue donor awareness. He even has his sights set on becoming an Ironman.
“The goal is to save thousands of lives of people who are waiting for organ or tissue transplants. New York has only 18% of its population enrolled on the state registry, one of the worst rates in the country. I am racing in the hope that more people will want to sign up to be donors,” he said.
He explains that part of his drive is to demonstrate that transplantation works, while at the same time encouraging more people to take care of their health.
“I owe it to my donor, whose unselfishness has given me the greatest gift I could ever ask for: the gift of sight,” he explains. “I am living proof that organ and tissue donation can truly change a life.”
If you are interested in becoming an organ or tissue donor in your state, you can learn more about the registry at www.organdonor.gov.
Courtney Ronner is a writer and digital media strategist specializing in fitness, PR/marketing and communications for non-profits and small businesses. She lives in New York City.