Last year my optometrist helped to save my life. I am sharing my story because I am grateful to him and the other doctors who have helped me, and also because I believe an initiative — State Question 793 — on the November ballot would create an environment that could make it less likely for people like me to receive life-saving care.
I am an avid bird-watcher, so my vision is really important to me. At age 57, I have been seeing the same optometrist for about 10 years. Dr. Doug Pearson in Pryor had previously diagnosed me with cataracts, a degenerative vision disease that can eventually lead to blindness if left untreated. Because we caught it early and he was monitoring its progression, I assumed we could prevent any further vision loss.
However, in early 2017, my condition worsened. I noticed my vision was deteriorating rapidly, and I made an appointment with Dr. Pearson. He did a series of tests and found an anomaly in my right eye.
Dr. Pearson immediately referred me to another optometrist, Dr. Jason Ellen of Tulsa, who specializes in cases like mine. After a series of additional tests, he made a scary discovery: I had a mass in my right eye that was pushing on the lens. Within days I was seen by Brian Firestone, M.D., at Dean McGee Eye Institute and learned I had developed ocular melanoma, a kind of cancerous tumor.
Ocular melanoma can be fatal. In about half of diagnosed cases, the cancer metastasizes and will spread to the liver or lungs. Early detection, diagnosis and treatment is critical to preserving life, saving the involved eye and keeping as much useful vision as possible
I was lucky to have that early intervention. Shortly after my diagnosis, I had specialized radiation treatment, and I am thrilled to report the treatment has been successful. The tumor has shrunk so much that it is just a tiny area of scar tissue. I have 20/20 vision with my glasses. Most important, my cancer has not spread.
I worry that the next patient with my condition will not be as lucky as I was. Walmart and other chain stores are aggressively backing SQ 793, which would consolidate a significant portion of optometry care into large superstores. Worse, it would give corporations the ability to dictate how optometrists practice. If these corporations are successful, it could make the kind of treatment I received — a thorough evaluation from an optometrist I know and trust — unavailable.
We know how these chain stores operate. Their primary concern is profitability. Their optometrists will perform simple exams designed to generate prescriptions for as many pairs of eyeglasses and contacts as possible. For some patients, that is fine. But if you or a loved one develops a degenerative eye disease or life-threatening condition, cheap glasses will not be the answer; real medical care will be. That kind of care is unlikely to come from a Walmart doctor whose employer is focused on reaching sales quotas.
Oklahoma currently has some of the best optometry education and the best optometric physicians in the country. My eye doctor was able to make decisions based on his training, under the scrutiny of a licensure law with clout. That will not be the case if Walmart has its way this November.
I am speaking out against SQ 793 because I believe that Oklahoma’s current high standards for vision care saved my vision and saved my life. This fall I am traveling to North Carolina for a bird-watching expedition, an experience that seemed impossible when my cancer was discovered. When I return, I will be casting my vote on Nov. 6 to support quality optometric care. Vote “no” on SQ 793.
This article originally appeared in the Friday, September 28 addition of the Tulsa World.