Life had literally been a blur for 87-year-old Maxine Kaehler for the past 18 years as three age-related eye conditions gradually worsened vision in both of her eyes. Her vision deteriorated so much that by 2008 she could not drive, or read the newspaper or a restaurant menu.
In May 2008, Maxine had a partial-thickness cornea transplant on her right eye to treat Fuchs' endothelial dystrophy. The results were almost instantaneous.
"After the transplant, I realized there were words on the buttons on my microwave, and then I looked at my dishwasher and noticed the same thing. I couldn't believe it. I was just pushing random buttons before because I couldn't read what was written on them," says Maxine with a laugh.
If you know Maxine, you know that seeing little details are important to her daily routine as a retiree. Some of her favorite hobbies include embroidering, playing cards with friends and cooking.
Maxine worked for almost 10 years as a nursing home cook after her husband passed away. Before that, Maxine cooked three large meals daily for eight to 20 people, including her husband and seven children, on the family farm in St. Charles, Minn.
How it all started
One day in 1991 while driving to church, Maxine suddenly had difficulty seeing. "My vision became blurry," Maxine says. The next day, she went to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. "Everything I do is at Mayo Clinic," she says. "I've been a Mayo patient since I had appendicitis surgery when I was 4 years old, and haven't gone anywhere else since."
In 2001, Maxine was diagnosed with macular degeneration, an age-related condition that causes the macula, a part of the retina (a tissue at the back of the eye), to deteriorate. She was referred to John Pach, M.D., a retina specialist, who continues to treat her today.
By April 2008, Maxine became blind in her left eye from macular degeneration and the vision in her right eye was poor. With her remaining eyesight deteriorating, Dr. Pach referred her to Sanjay Patel, M.D., a cornea surgery specialist. "I know the doctors here have what I need or will find what I need by working together. I trust them," says Maxine.
A moment of clarity
When Maxine saw Dr. Patel to discuss cornea transplant options, she was anxious and depressed because of her vision problems. "Before surgery, I kind of wondered if I could go through with it," she says. "My visit with Dr. Patel made me feel at ease and realize that this is what I had to do. He gave me peace of mind. I was scared but decided to do it. He said, 'I can help you.'"
"Cornea transplant surgery can make a noticeable impact on quality of life and helps patients like Maxine return to their previous lifestyle, and the daily activities and hobbies they like to do," says Dr. Patel.
Maxine's vision changed from 20/200 in May 2008, before cornea transplant surgery, to 20/40 in January 2009. For most people, 20/20 vision is considered ideal vision.
"Every time I come in for a follow-up clinic visit, my vision keeps getting better and better. I couldn't imagine not doing it. Now, I'm in a much better mood," says Maxine. "I can pick up a newspaper and read it without a magnifying glass unless it's in very, very fine print. I love to embroider, and all of a sudden I discovered I could thread a needle and embroider again. I also can now read signs on the road."
"I'm enjoying life now. In fact, my son in Indianapolis has an airline ticket lined up for me to go there and visit. The two youngest of my 20 grandchildren are going to be performing in a play and dance recital. I look forward to seeing them perform in person," says Maxine, with an emphasis on "seeing."